Time Inc. in the E-Reader Business: Report

Magazine giant looking for help from rival publishers

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    Who's afraid of Jeff Bezos? Time Inc. executives, for one.

    As NBC Bay Area first reported in September, Time Inc. is planning a joint venture with other magazine publishers to compete with Amazon.com's Kindle and other e-book readers.

    Time executive John Squires is in charge of the effort, AllThingsD reports, which would create special versions of magazines from Time Inc., Conde Nast, and Hearst, and dictate pricing and other terms to device makers.

    Despite indications in an internal presentation obtained by NBC that the Time venture would get involved in product design, the publishers are not considering creating an entirely new device.

    Instead, the venture, which some are comparing to the television industry's Hulu, would get involved in sales and distribution, and maintain a direct relationship with subscribers.

    Currently, Amazon handles customer service, billing, pricing, and marketing for the newspapers and magazines it sells via its Kindle device. Likewise, Apple handles billing for apps and content sold via its iTunes store for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and other devices -- like the rumored tablet computer it's widely believed to be working on.

    Squires is an unlikely choice to head the project, since he's not known within Time Inc. for his digital savvy. Time, while a pioneer in bringing magazines online in the mid-'90s, has struggled to make money on the Internet.

    Part of the plan involves creating brand-new content, different from what's in print and online, for new and existing electronic readers. But Time, which has seen thousands of layoffs in recent years, is already struggling to produce content for the Web and in print. It's not clear how the publisher will staff content creation for yet another publishing platform.