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A "Netflix for Magazines"?

The age of the digital magazine is here.
April 5, 2012

There’s something of a running gag in the startup world, where everything is an “X for Y.” The joke site itsthisforthat.com has memorably satirized this way of thinking, randomly pairing services with objects to imagine startup ideas. “So, basically, it’s like a YouTube for parking tickets,” Click again. “So, basically, it’s like a 1-800-Flowers for funeral homes.” Again. “So, basically, it’s like a LinkedIn for ugly people.”

Still, Peter Kafka at AllThingsD hits it on the nose when he describes a cool forthcoming product, dubbing it “Netflix for Magazines.” (It’s a product via Next Issue Media, or NIM, a consortium that had likened itself previously to a “Hulu for Magazines.”)

One of the few joys of going to the doctor’s office–stay with me here–is that you get to catch up on the magazines you don’t subscribe to, while waiting to be summoned to a cold and sterile room where you will be asked to remove your clothing. Next Issue looks to be something like the doctor’s waiting room, only hopefully without that faint, insistent sense of dread. It’s a simple idea: fork over $10 or $15 a month, and you’ll get an all-you-can-eat buffet of magazine content delivered to your tablet. (All you can eat, that is, from the 32 magazines that are part of the consortium, but it’s a lot of A-list stuff, including the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and their ilk.)

Next Issue is available only for Android, for now; an iPad app is promised soon. If you’ve got a Droid tablet, click here and try a 30-day free trial.

The app comes at a time of increasing interest in finally making tablets a place for magazines to flourish. This was supposedly one of the selling points of tablets to begin with–that they would revive long-form publishing–but that has not yet come to pass: magazines’ digital circulation, while growing, is still miniscule–about 1% of total paid and verified circulation, per AdAge.

One reason for magazines’ failure to take off on tablets, some speculate, is a lack of standardization of the experience. This week, the Association of Magazine Media announced a set of standards–“voluntary guidelines” to help “drive growth of advertising on tablets,” in the words of a press release. “There is so much going on in the tablet area and there is so much different language and such a need for some consistency and clarity to help our advertising partners that we decided to form this task force,” Nina Link, the association’s chief, told the Times. Advertising dollars, of course, are in a sense the lifeblood of a publication. The new focus on making tablets a more hospitable environment for advertisers points, more generally, to a potential flourishing of the digital magazine.

Taken together, the moves by the Association of Magazine Media and Next Issue Media bode well.

“So, basically, it’s like a Life Raft for Publishing!” There’s a startup idea I can get behind.

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