Publishers Pooh-Pooh Hearst’s New ‘E-Reader’

Last week, Fortune reported that Hearst will soon unveil its own version of the Kindle: a portable, wireless electronic reader you can use to download all the contents of Esquire or Cosmopolitan. Though Hearst will develop it, it’ll be available for other publishers to use for their own content. Is this the future? Magazines making their own hardware to distribute their digital content? It just might work: Why worry whether Amazon has the scratch to make the next Kindle a success, or develop an iPhone app only to deal with Apple’s planned obsolescences?

We asked, and we found most publishers pretty dismissive of the idea.

“There’s a lot of energy with creating these reader devices, but I can’t tell you there is that much consumer demand for a magazine publication reader,” said Peter Meirs, the vice president of production technologies at Time Inc.

He said that while Time Inc. has no plans for creating an e-reader, plenty of options are being considered: for instance, partnerships!

“We believe that e-reading devices that link to stores where readers can pay small fees for content will be an important development for the growth of the publishing industry and the media in general,” Time Inc. spokesperson Dawn Bridges said.

But they want to see how the market reacts first.

“For now, it’s not our competency to be building devices,” Mr. Meirs said. “There are a lot of people bringing these devices to market, so it’s advantageous to see how the market develops before we do something like this.”

“No plans to invest in technology,” said Condé Nast CEO Chuck Townsend, through a spokeswoman. “We believe our position is to invest in content.”

Likewise, no device is coming from Meredith Corporation, which publishes lady mags like More and Ladies’ Home Journal.

“I spoke to [vice president of digital] Dan Hickey, and he said that we aren’t planning to create any digital e-readers at this point,” said a Meredith spokesman. “He said our big focus is on building out our social media networks, and the Meredith Women’s Network. He also said that we already deliver digital versions of our magazines for those subscribers who want them, so there isn’t really a necessity to create a physical device.”

Same for Hachette Filipacchi, the publisher of Elle and Car & Driver.

“Nothing from us for the moment,” said a spokeswoman for them.

What about the New York Times Company, which, in addition to the paper, produces its Sunday magazine and those T supplements, and already distributes via Kindle and an iPhone app? Denise Warren, the general manager of NYtimes.com, said that building technology “isn’t our unique competitive advantage.”

Marcus Brauchli, the editor of The Washington Post, outlined a specific reason why you wouldn’t go into the business.

“That’s totally counterproductive,” Mr. Brauchli said of the suggestion last week. “The history of business innovation is littered with examples of companies that have attempted to have unique company-specific platforms that are ultimately not probably accessible.”

What’s the answer then?

“It requires innovation, not simply by newspaper companies, but by media companies in general working in close collaboration with the companies that dominate the Internet and who have figured out ways of monetizing content over the Internet, which is to say, Google and Microsoft,” he said. “I do think there will be collaboration with the big technology companies.

So memo to Si Newhouse, Ann Moore, Arthur Sulzberger and Katharine Weymouth: Time to get lunch with the Amazon or Apple folks at your earliest convenience.

jkoblin@observer.com