Major magazine publishers are uniting to solve that old media dilemma of how to survive new media, rumor has it, and they'll soon be opening a joint storefront to peddle their digital wares. Time, Condé Nast, and Hearst are among the publishers who will participate in this iTunes-style magazine store, according to the Observer, but concrete details are scarce. Here's how I'm hoping it pans out:
Bring it to iTunes
Magazines are sold in grocery stores and bodegas, and even newsstands sell lots of other stuff, so why pen digital magazines into their own marketplace? Make the store an annex of larger, existing digital storefronts. Publishers could still sell digital magazines directly, but their content will be easier to stumble upon in places where people are already shopping.
Rethink the Content
Digital's a different world than print. Magazines can and should link out to relevant sites and articles -- even if they're not their own -- with built-in Web browsers. Reader comments should be encouraged, not feared. Multimedia should be abundant and easy to access. Ads could be retooled, but not in a way that makes them obnoxious.
Stop Worshiping Print
Old media traditionally loathes how new media cannibalizes print sales, but this new venture is the publishers' playground. The project will fail if print articles are withheld from the digital version in order to hang onto print subscribers.
Make Archives Easy
One of the best things about digital media is that you can store lots of it in a tiny package. Customers should have easy access to past purchases, even if the user deleted a copy and has to download it again. It'd be nice if longtime print subscribers could immediately access the backlog if they make the switch, and the text of all that content should be searchable.
Don't Get Greedy
Magazine subscriptions are dirt-cheap provided you use one of the discounts printed on inserts. Publishers should skip the tomfoolery and offer these rock-bottom prices -- I'm thinking 50 cents an issue for the New Yorker -- to annual subscribers. And here's another idea: Credit the price of a standalone "newsstand" copy toward the cost of a subscription should the reader decide to upgrade.