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Due to the runaway popularity of Hulu, many different publishers are hoping to tap into a similar model for sharing their content online. The latest proposal is a "Hulu for magazines" idea lobbied by Time Inc. The new service would bundle magazine content from various publishers into a storefront that can deliver content to various devices.
Here's a problem with that. Hulu doesn't make money right now. And plans to resuscitate the magazine industry by following its business model may be, well, a little premature.
The partnership is being led by Time Inc., with Conde Nast and Hearst agreeing to participate. According to AllThingsD:
"[Publishers] are hopeful that mobile devices like the Kindle will create a new market for them. And if that market does show up, they want to make sure they’re the ones in charge of sales and distribution. That’s been a huge problem for the music industry, whose digital sales are essentially controlled by Apple. And it has already cropped up as a point of contention with Amazon, which currently handles sales for all content delivered via its Kindle reader."
One early problem is that digital marketplaces don't currently work on subscription models. Both the iTunes store and Hulu give access to individual pieces of content. Allowing readers to purchase subscriptions to magazines online does not differ very much from what they've been doing offline. And so far, that hasn't been working.
Magazine publishers may be hesitant to cannibalize their own content and sell off the most popular stories on a service like this, but charging for digital subscriptions is not a revolutionary business model. And getting magazine access on an e-reader is not so radically different from getting magazines delivered to your house. Will subscribers renew magazine subscriptions for ease of use on a digital device? These publishers are hoping so.
The other problem is getting this content on e-readers. The publishers want to take over control of their distribution, but currently, companies like Amazon control all distribution on their devices. Publishers may have to jump through more than a few hoops to get this model to fly on the Kindle, or Amazon's Tablet, when it comes out.
Furthermore, Hulu hasn't even figured out how to charge for its content. The iTunes store has been impressively successful charging for music content that many thought would always been downloaded for free online. But magazine publishers have to prove to readers that their subscriptions are valuable in the digital space. And many have yet to do so.
Meanwhile, Hulu managed its impressive traffic rates by offering its content for free. Newscorp has now expressed an interest in charging for that content, but there's no guarantee such a plan would work.
That said, magazines do need to make radical changes if they want to succeed in digital. And if they can reengineer this model as they go, it could be promising. A publishing executive tells AllThingsD:
“We know that traditional magazines are going away, and that magazines on the Web don’t work. But this gives us a chance to serve the reader who will pay for content, and provide advertising that really works. Can you think of a better idea?”