Media Titans to Launch Content Store Focused on Mobile

The desire of large publishers to monetize their content has produced the latest in a series of strange bedfellows. Yesterday, Time Inc., Hearst Corp., Condé Nast, News Corp., and Meredith Corp. — media giants that in other decades may have preferred shooting dirty pool over exchanging handshakes — announced their intention to create a collective digital storefront that will sell articles from their numerous titles.

John Squires, an interim manager for the joint venture, said the five-way partnership will deliver paid content to mobile devices in a standardized digital reader technology. The initiative will launch sometime next year.

Key wrinkles that need to be ironed out are price points, platform architecture, formatting for operating systems, content offered, and subscription packages.

Squires, who transitioned from a VP position at Time Inc. last month, pointed to Sports Illustrated’s upcoming interactive “tablet” for smartphones as a good example how the venture might present content. And he dismissed the notion that the agreement represents a shift away from the five companies’ individual print and Web editorial brands.

“This [venture] is not meant to supplant what these publishers may do with their online content and what people can enjoy in terms of reading an article,” Squires said. “This is meant to be more of an immersive experience. We’re not attacking the digital strategy of our partners with respect to the desktop. This is really intended to be focused on the mobile reading market.”

While the venture deals in “digital,” it’s not clear how the paid content will be distributed via a Web destination, if at all. Squires would only say, “There will be a Web location where the consumer can manage their content, look at their library, give recommendations, etc.”

If Sports Illustrated’s “tablet” model is the guide, the new platform might sell full-screen ads that can include product video clips and the ability to share a promo with online friends.

“Why not begin with the classic forum that we all know works?” he said. “Consumers love advertisements in newspapers and magazines. Of all [media], they love that advertising the most. So, we should aim for that kind of affection.”

Details are murky about how content will be presented. For instance, there’s no word on whether consumers will be able to tailor articles or preferred subject matter from across the publishing houses or an individual publisher’s titles.

Squires indicated the joint venture will likely bundle digital content with print magazines through subscription offers. “If we are doing that, we are going to sell incremental print subscriptions because there will be new customers who are attracted to this digital platform who might not be existing print subscribers.”

Meanwhile, other publishers will also be able to offer content via the digital store in a fashion similar to music publishers getting on iTunes.

The five publishers were not the only major players announcing content-based deals yesterday. MSN, BermanBraun Interactive and Hachette Filipacchi Media said they plan to launch a site focused on style, beauty, relationships, and home décor during the first half of 2010. While no brand name or URL has been disclosed, the move builds on BermanBraun and MSN’s co-venture, Wonderwall.com, from earlier this year.

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