Should B2B Get Excited about the Digital Magazine Consortium?

For B2B publishers, how big a deal is the recently announced digital magazine consortium?  Does the participation of industry titans Condé Nast, Time Inc., Hearst, Meredith, and News Corp., mean our magazines will all soon be read on cool e-reader tablets? Or is it just more hot air?

For me, the answers to these questions came from an unexpected source. Regular readers of B2B Memes will know that I have mixed feelings about digital magazines.  Likewise, my feelings are mixed about the one blog on the subject that I follow, from digital magazine producer Nxtbook Media. Like many corporate blogs, it’s a mix of lightweight stories about company activities, tales of customer success, and criticisms of anyone that doesn’t like their product. Last week, though, I remembered why I follow it: Sometimes it offers some excellent insights.

It’s unfortunate that the PR bulldog instinct came over the author, Marcus Grimm, in headlining last week’s post “Lies, Half-Truths and Other Innuendos About Digital Magazines.”  The inflammatory choice of words made me suspect it would be a hack job, but in fact it was a well-reasoned and sensible discussion of the consortium’s effort. (I suppose it’s too late now, but why not use a key phrase from the post as the title: “Top Five Things You Need to Know About the Forthcoming Digital Magazine Consortium”?)

If you’re interested in the topic, you should read the entire post. But here I will cite three key points Grimm makes in casting doubt on the relevance of the consortium.

First, as Grimm notes, “there’s no reason to believe this will be a solution for trade publishers.” The consortium is all about charging for content, not growing an audience. Hence, he says, “if you’re interested in the latter, there’s nothing here to indicate a better future for you, or even a different future.”

Second, he argues against the strategy of producing a dedicated device for digital magazines: “We DON’T agree that you should make readers choose a format. Instead, let them choose the content and have the format adapt to the device [they’re] on.”

Third, he points out the silliness of the magazine industry trying to build a tablet: “The fact that the consortium is working on an eReader device is further proof to me that they don’t fully get what industry they’re in. Hint: it’s not hardware.”

Now, I suppose there may be some behind-the-scenes politics or unspoken resentments at work here I don’t know about, and as a Nxtbook employee, Grimm is certainly not an objective observer. But he’s persuaded me that the consortium is not likely to hit a home run.

Personally, I hope someone is successful at forging a viable, widely-accepted approach to porting digital versions of B2B magazines to portable readers. For me, no matter how cool the technology, digital magazines on a computer just don’t cut it. But put them on my Kindle, add some color and better performance to the device, and I could be sold on digital magazines at last.

One thought on “Should B2B Get Excited about the Digital Magazine Consortium?

  1. John,

    Thanks for getting past the admittedly hype-ridden headline. I plead guilty on that.

    Thanks, too, for keeping up with the blog. We appreciate it. You’re right, of course: corporate blogs have little recourse but to be shaped by the lens we look through on a daily basis. Still, I try to only be critical when I really feel that something’s happening which may cause publishers to go down the wrong road.

    In the past several weeks, we’ve had more than a few publishers call begging to know what they can do to get their nxtbooks on the Apple Tablet NOW. It’s these types of questions that cause me to pull out the soap box from time to time, rightly or wrongly.


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