Backed By Time, Next Issue Launches A Tablet Newsstand With Netflix-Style Pricing

With many magazine publishers look at tablets (especially the iPad) as their salvation, five of the big ones (Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time Inc.) banded together to create a joint venture called Next Issue Media. Today the company is launching its Android app.

CEO Morgan Guenther (formerly president of Tivo) says that despite all the excitement about bringing magazines to tablets, the current system has problems — specifically, the need to download a new app for every magazine. Gone is the “newsstand” feeling of walking into a store and browsing a rack of titles.

“It’s like if I walked into Barnes & Noble and wanted to browse magazines, and I was led into a room with you windows where I can read Fortune.” Guenther says. “And then I say, ‘Okay, I want to read Wired,’ and they send me to another room. When I walk in, there’s a big sign on the front door saying, ‘Here are your instructions for reading the magazine.'”

So Next Issue offers a single newsstand app where, eventually, you may be able to subscribe and read all your favorite magazines. Right now, it has 32 titles. Even though it’s a relatively short list, it’s an impressive one, including Better Homes & Gardens, ELLE, Esquire, Fortune, People, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, TIME, and Vanity Fair. You can purchase individual issues or subscriptions, and there’s also a free 30-day trial for each subscribers. The catalog begins with January of this year.

Guenther demonstrated the app for me earlier this week. There’s a nice 3D carousel for quickly flipping the pages, and publishers can add extra content like bonus photos, videos, and interactive features. Te interface is consistent between each magazine, so you don’t have to learn how to read different magazines.

But what I’m really excited about is the price. Individual subscriptions range from $1.99 to $9.99 per month, but there are also two unlimited options — you can pay $9.99 for every monthly and biweekly title, or $14.99 for everything, including the weeklies like TIME and The New Yorker. You probably won’t read every issue of every title, but you can follow your favorites, and dip in and out of others as specific stories and issues interest you. It’s almost like a Netflix plan for magazines.

Revenue from the all-you-can-read subscriptions is then distributed among the publishers based on readership. As for advertising, for now the digital magazines just include ads from the physical copies. Guenther says there’s not yet a big enough audience to justify tablet-specific ad programs — but not surprisingly, he wants to get there.

Within the constraints of the Next Issue interface, the publishers have complete control over their content, and they decide what extra content to include, Guenther says — and he wants to add social sharing and discovery features next.

Oh, and if you don’t own an Android tablet (who does?), the company plans to submit its iPad app to Apple soon.