Tech Scan: A Netflix approach to online magazines

A new service is offering multiple major magazines online for a single monthly subscription. Caveat: you'll need the right tablet to read them.
Crosscut archive image.

The non-virtual newstand in Pike Place Market (2006).

A new service is offering multiple major magazines online for a single monthly subscription. Caveat: you'll need the right tablet to read them.

A new pay Internet service called Next Issue may do for magazine lovers what Netflix has done for the movies.

Sign up for a monthly subscription and you’ll have online access to some of the nation’s better known monthly and weekly magazines, 39 in all, for a single monthly charge.  Titles include but aren’t limited to Better Homes and Gardens, Esquire, Essence, GQ, People, The New Yorker, Time, and Vogue. (Here's a full list.) Major media publishers on board include Conde Nast, Time Warner, Hearst, Meredith, and News Corp.

Most if not all of these magazines are now available as individual subscriptions.  Many give you a digital version in addition to your print version. With Next Issue, however, for a single monthly price — $9.99 for most of the monthlies and a so-called "unlimited premium" $14.99 for all publications. And while you may balk at the monthly cost, this is still a remarkable way to enjoy magazines in all their glory: every word, picture, and ad identical to the print edition. You can currently get a 30-day free trial subscription.

I’ve been a digital subscriber to Vanity Fair for some time, using my iPad to read my issues. I also receive the print edition, but I prefer reading the digital version. Reading the magazine on my tablet is beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact.  Navigating through issues is intuitive. The color ads look luscious. Many articles contain video, audio, or active Internet links to stories from past issues that add richness to the story I’ve just read.

All these features are available via my Vanity Fair/Next Issue subscription — and I can also enjoy the 13 other magazines I’ve selected with all their features via the same monthly subscription.

According to Davis Fields, product manager for Next Issue, the company plans to expand its current publications selection.  While he would not be specific, it’s clear that newspapers may well be included should this service prove to be successful.

There are several caveats, however. The service is designed to deliver what Davis terms “the look and feel of the premium magazines.” That’s shorthand for making the digital versions feel like you’re holding the magazine in your hand and turning the pages.

Thus far, that reading experience is limited to tablets. Smartphones, no matter how stellar or glorious their screens, are excluded for the time being. But if you own an iPad, you're safe.

Android tablets are a bit more complex. If you'vre ordered the soon-to-be-released 7-inch  Google Nexus 7 tablet, you're good to go. The current Amazon Kindle reader should work, but I couldn't make it work. For other Android tablets, you'll need to meet the following specifications: a systemt running Android 3.x (Honeycomb) and 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) on tablets 7 inches or larger with a screen resolution of either 1024x600 or 1280x800 pixels.  Here are download links for the iPad and Android tablets.

They’re also not available to read on your laptop or desk computer.

If you’ve never downloaded magazines before, be aware that digital editions are huge memory hogs. In our phone interview, Fields noted that the size of Next Issue downloads aren’t significantly different than stand-alone subscriptions.  To safeguard users on their download sizes, Next Issue has a “usage” meter in its settings (the “gear” sign in the screen’s upper right hand corner) that will tell you the maximum number of issues you can keep on your device, and will help you “unpin” (e.g., delete) your downloaded issue. You’ll still have access to it in the cloud for future downloads.

If the venture is successful, it will be further proof that the success of media on the Internet is in subscription services, not single subscriptions to individual publications. The digital generation is aware that it’s all there in the cloud, the Internet mothership where everything is stored and nothing is lost. Who needs to own our stuff any more? (I’m sure more than a few readers may have resounding rebuttals to that thought.)

Next Issue, then, is a fine experiment blending the old with the new. If it's successful, look for other media still struggling to survive on one-to-one subscriptions to take a deep gulp and jump into the we’re-all-in-the-same-lifeboat subscription business.


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