Digital genies

In the New York Post, Keith Kelly claims that a consortium of major publishers is close to launching a service that will aggregate content into something dubbed Hulu for Magazines (hereafter, HfM).

I’d give this idea higher marks if it weren’t born of a desire to “put the digital genie back in the bottle”. As my friend Mac Slocum is wont to say: “Good luck with that”. Video Hulu may make sense as a way to capture time-shifted audiences, but magazines don’t have a significant time-shifting challenge.

Magazines, which operate vertically to build on direct relationships with readers, are better positioned than television producers to create the kind of cross-platform engagement around a niche audience. Maybe HfM should not try to gain scale to bully Apple but instead look to build vertical depth to create a meaningful business in which Apple is but one of several delivery options.

There is also the hopeful notion that a consortium of publishers will hold together to limit distribution of digital content to paying platforms. When HfM fails to deliver traffic, or subscriptions, for the titles in the mix that are less popular or less likely to match the HfM demographic, count the minutes before partners start bailing.

That doesn’t mean HfM can’t work, but I don’t see how it works as a broad consortium sponsored by publishers with many different titles and audiences. The players have a desire to monetize the audience (putting the digital genie back in the bottle), and not all of them will see that happen. When the money isn’t there, the laggard partners are likely to cast a cold eye on the value of the consortium.

Updated October 9 to add: I missed his work when writing this post initially, but Bill Mickey comes to a similar conclusion from a somewhat different point of view.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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