Some of the magazine industry’s biggest names are on the verge of forming a new company that would allow them to take the digital future into their own hands.
The company would make up one of the biggest alliances among rival publishers ever formed in print media, with Time Inc., Condé Nast and Hearst all expected to join, houses that together publish more than 50 magazines, including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Esquire and O, The Oprah Magazine.
The company will prepare magazines that can work across multiple digital platforms, whether the iPhone, the BlackBerry or countless other digital devices. The company will not develop an e-book, but create something that people familiar with the plans compare to iTunes—a store where you can buy new and distinct iterations of The New Yorker or Time. Print magazines will also be for sale.
John Squires, an executive vice president at Time Inc., is planning to leave Time Inc. and become the interim executive of the new company, sources told The Observer. His term is expected to be six months, during which time the group will search for a permanent executive.
The deal is not done, but if all goes according to plan, the company could be announced within weeks, and other publishers may join in as well.
“It’s very close and more imminent than it’s been,” said one source familiar with the situation.
In June, Mr. Squires gave up his job of running the business side of the news division for Time Inc, and became the digital futurist at the company.
With the blessing of Time Inc. executives, Mr. Squires immediately started taking meetings with other publishers and insisted that they pull together.
“He’s been the one generating interest,” said another source from a rival publishing house.
“Basically, this was his deal from the get-go,” said a source. “He had this idea. These guys are all big competitors and now they’re laying down their arms to try figure this whole new world out together.”
Each magazine publisher now believes it’s too risky to go it alone to find new ways to get consumers to pay. If they all join together, the reasoning goes, they stand a better chance of producing greater revenue.
The deal is taking time to complete because it involves so many moving pieces.
“It’s pretty complicated stuff,” said a source. “The really, really hard part is that you’ve got so many different kinds of devices running on different operating systems. And how do you handle that? The consortium provides one point of contact for the consumer. When you come to the main store, you can get the content any way you want.”
In addition to building up the store, each publisher will actually have to figure out how to build digital versions of their own magazines.
When we reached Mr. Squires on the phone, he would not comment, and referred us to a Time Inc. spokeswoman, who also declined to comment.
But Mr. Squires has been a proponent of building the magazine experience for devices for a while. Indeed, in an interview with The Observer back in February, he hinted that this was the only way out.
“Unlike books and music, I think [for magazines] it involves designing a new product in order for it to be something that consumers really love,” said Mr. Squires. “I like our chances to be able to design a product that consumers will want to pay for.”
In other words, something like the Kindle isn’t changing the form at all. It’s simply a repository for content. Mr. Squires believes that the magazine companies themselves have to remind consumers that the magazine experience, no matter what the form, is worth paying for.
“With magazines, the form has to change,” he continued. “All I’m saying is that there are ways to design magazines differently for that kind of experience that’ll be attractive and will feel different to a consumer.”
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