Remember Next Issue Media?
That’s okay. There’s a reason for that.
Next Issue is a “Hulu for magazines” concept — a service, jointly owned by some of the world’s biggest publishers, that lets you read digital versions of magazines produced by some of the world’s biggest publishers. It was created in 2009, launched in 2012, and since then hasn’t made much impact.
Now it’s trying to change that. The company, which got a fresh $50 million in financing and a new CEO earlier this year, is rebranding its service and relaunching its app.
But it’s also making a more important change: While Next Issue is still selling all-you-can-eat magazine subscriptions, it is de-emphasizing the concept of magazines. Instead, it is pushing the idea that your subscription gets you access to the world’s best articles, personally curated for you based on your interests.
“This is my antidote to the Web,” said Next Issue CEO John Loughlin, who joined the company last spring from Hearst, where he had helped that publisher shape its digital magazine strategy. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Web and all the free stuff you can read there, Loughlin says — it’s just that Texture, his new/old service, can get you stuff you can’t find there, organized in a way you’ll appreciate.
That’s the pitch. You can see for yourself tomorrow, when Texture goes live in various app stores. In the meantime I can give you a quick summary: Texture does indeed present you with a bunch of different reading options, culled in part from magazines you’ve told it you want to read, as well as other stories that are popular at the time.
The curation is done in part by humans and in part by machines, and it’s supposed to be sensitive to things like news cycles: Last night, for instance, in the wake of Axel Springer’s purchase of Business Insider, Texture’s editors had surfaced Ken Auletta’s 2013 New Yorker profile of BI CEO Henry Blodget. You can also still read digital versions of individual magazines cover to cover, just like you could with the old service.
I am intrigued by the fact that Big Magazine Publishers — Hearst, Conde Nast, Meredith, News Corp., Time Inc. and Canada’s Rogers Media — have finally gotten comfortable with the idea of atomizing their publications and letting users recombine them any way they want.
Anyone who spends any time reading on the Web realizes that this shift happened years ago, so you could argue that publishers are (very) late to the party. Then again, packaging individual stories into a single product is the core of magazines, so you can see why it would take them this long.
One problem, of course, is that anyone who spends any time on the Web — or, really, any time consuming digital media — realizes that regular people don’t distinguish between “magazine articles” and everything else they read. And there’s plenty of compelling stuff — oftentimes the most compelling stuff — that comes from places that are not magazines.
This is great for aggregators like Facebook and Twitter, and it’s what Medium is thinking about when it says it wants to bring you the “Best Stories and Ideas on the Internet.” But it’s terrifying if you’re, say, Time magazine.
Another problem for Next Issue is that the idea of digital magazines seemed a lot more interesting back when we thought the iPad and its competitors were going to be the Next Big Thing, instead of a Popular Thing Whose Sales Growth Is Tapering Off. Lots of the stuff the digital magazines were supposed to do — lush art, cool interactive graphics, etc. — don’t seem nearly as compelling on a phone, or even a phablet.
So who’s going to pay $120 a year, or more, for stuff that only comes from magazines? We’ll see. Loughlin says that the old incarnation has “hundreds of thousands” of subscribers and that his goal is to add hundreds of thousands more. Which gives me the impression the magazine guys think this will still be a niche business, even at scale (which may be why they are comfortable semi-blowing up their business). A marketing blitz, using some of that new money from investor KKR, will start up this fall.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.