Battle For the Newsstand: Google vs. Apple vs. E-readers

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Google is gunning to compete against Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to offer the top electronic newsstand for tablet devices, according to reports. Google is reportedly in talks with publishers such as Time, Condé Nast and Hearst to offer magazine subscriptions for Android devices. To entice publishers, Google is reportedly willing to take a smaller cut from publishers than Apple's typical 30 percent from iPhone and iPad applications. Google will also hand over more subscriber information to publishers than Apple currently does, according to The Wall Street Journal .

Google's Android platform is far behind its competitors in terms of magazine and newspaper offerings. Numerous popular magazine titles including GQ, The Economist, Vanity Fair and Time offer full versions of their magazines on the iPad. While magazine publishers on Android offer only stripped down free versions.

The iPad has also inspired a new tablet-only magazine from Virgin called Project, and News Corp. is expected to launch a daily newspaper for the iPad in 2011. Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook, meanwhile, offer a large range of digital magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Barnes and Noble offers subscriptions for its Nook color e-reader, but not its mobile applications for devices such as the iPad and Android phones. Amazon sells magazines and newspapers on all Kindle devices and the Kindle for Android app, but not on iOS devices.

Apple Newsstand

Rumors about a revamped magazine and newspaper subscription scheme for Apple's iOS devices have been circulating for several months. Currently, individual publishers design and sell magazines through individual applications. Offerings vary from individual issue sales, yearly subscriptions or supplying free digital editions to subscribers of their print editions.

Apple is purportedly hoping to change this scheme and offer in-app subscriptions for iOS devices. One reported sticking point between Apple and publishers since rumors of an Apple subscription plan first surfaced is access to subscriber information. Magazine and newspaper publishers say it is vital to their business to know who their subscribers are so they can offer special marketing and sales deals directed at their readers. But Apple does not share subscriber information with app developers. So many publishers sell digital subscriptions for the iPad through their Websites instead of a one-click subscription through an iOS app.

As a compromise for publishers, Apple may offer iPad users the chance to share their information with magazine publishers on an opt-in only basis, according to the Journal. Apple may also add the ability for subscriptions to be delivered automatically to a user's device under the new scheme.

So far, Google and Apple have not officially announced any newsstand plans.

Despite enthusiasm for the tablets as a new distribution mechanism for magazines, it's not clear how popular digital periodicals are. A recent report by the Audit Bureau of Circulations noted that some digital magazine subscriptions have dropped by as much as 40 percent since magazines started offering iPad editions earlier this year, according to Memo Pad.

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