Publishers Collaborate On E-Reader Platform - InformationWeek

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Publishers Collaborate On E-Reader Platform

Top magazine publishers will launch a digital storefront and software platform for publishing on e-readers, smartphones, and laptops.

Major magazine publishers on Tuesday announced their intent to launch a digital storefront and a software platform for publishing content on electronic readers, smartphones, laptops, and other portable devices.

However, in announcing their joint venture, Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time Warner's Time offered few details of the technology that would be used or which hardware and software makers the companies would partner with.

What the companies did say was that the venture would develop "open standards for a new digital storefront and related technology." The partners also said the digital initiative had four major goals: the development of a reading application capable of rendering a magazine format; a publishing platform for multiple devices, operating systems and screen sizes; a consumer storefront for buying and subscribing to content; and a "rich array of innovative advertising opportunities."

The latest announcement leaves in question whether the publishers will develop their own open standard for publishing content or adopt the existing ePub standard. Adobe's upcoming Creative Suite 5 will support content development in ePub, giving publishers a powerful tool for developing digital content in the standard.

A spokesman for the publishers did not respond to a request for an interview by InformationWeek in time for this writing. However, Allen Weiner, analyst for Gartner, said magazine publishers are long overdue in entering the digital revolution rocking the publishing industry, which has seen large amounts of ad revenue move to the Web.

While book and newspaper publishers have been working toward adopting digital formats and business models, "magazines have kind of fallen by the wayside," Weiner said.

Part of the problem has been the difficulty of putting a magazine on an electronic device while maintaining the integrity of the layout and color. But despite that problem, publishers have missed opportunities, such as failing to partner with netbook makers to offer magazine subscriptions with the mini-laptops, Weiner said.

Netbooks have been the hottest selling PC category during the economic recession, with 50 million units expected to be sold this year, according to ABI Research.

"Magazines have totally missed the netbook opportunity," Weiner said.

Overall, the publishers' announcement is seen as a general roadmap with details to follow. "It's going to take awhile to come together," Weiner said. "I wouldn't view this announcement as the answer, but more of an indication of the trajectory of the (magazine) industry."

One implication of the announcement is that proprietary publishing standards, such as the one used by Amazon in its Kindle e-reader, won't be favored by the publishers. With 10 million e-readers expected to be sold next year in the U.S., along with more than 50 million smartphones, the intent is get their content on as many of those devices as possible, the publishers said.

"Once purchased, this content will be 'unlocked' for consumers to enjoy anywhere, anytime, on any platform," John Squires, interim managing director of the joint venture, said in a statement.

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