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12/9/2009
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Magazine Publishers Take On The Internet

Consortium of leading media companies eyes digital content and online storefront.

Some of the nation's largest magazine publishers have joined forces to launch a digital initiative they hope will restore their appeal—and profits—in the Internet age.

Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp, and Time Inc. said they plan to jointly develop a common software standard that will be used as the basis for delivering highly interactive versions of their products to a range of digital devices, such as e-readers, smartphones and laptops.

They also plan to launch a digital storefront—Apple-style--from which consumers can purchase and download titles.

As a group, the publishers carry considerable clout. They collectively produce thousands of titles, including well known periodicals like Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Family Circle, and Time magazine.

"For the consumer, this digital initiative will provide access to an extraordinary selection of engaging content products, all customized for easy download on the device of their choice," said John Squires, interim managing director for the as yet unnamed consortium.

"Once purchased, this content will be unlocked for consumers to enjoy anywhere, anytime, on any platform," said Squires.

Magazine and newspaper publishers have been hit hard by consumers' shift to the web for much of their daily reading. The effort is thus seen as a way for them to recoup lost readers and advertisers and establish themselves as digital heavyweights.

The initiative, however, faces myriad challenges. Previous efforts by print publishers to go digital, including mid-90s experiments with interactive CD-ROMs, fell flat.

To boot, the publishers are relatively late to the game in the e-reader market, and it's questionable whether consumers who already own an Amazon Kindle or some other proprietary device would be willing to shell for yet more hardware.

One option would be for the publishers to partner with Amazon, but the print industry has griped that the online retailer keeps too large a share of revenue generated by Kindle downloads.

In launching a digital format and storefront, the consortium would also in effect be competing with third parties—such as Zinio—that already provide digitization sales and services for print publishers. Fully digital versions of magazines have thus far met with only limited success.

It's also not clear why consumers, who thus far have shunned paying for content on the Web, would be willing to do so to read articles and view images on an e-reader.

Still, the magazine consortium remains hopeful.

"In addition to entirely new magazine and newspaper reading experiences, content selections may ultimately include books, comic books, blogs, and other media," the group said. Their plan is to release products by late 2010.

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