Next Issue Media brings the Netflix model to magazines

All Things D has an interesting article about the preliminary launch of Next Issue Media, a magazine service for tablet owners that’s modeled after all-you-can-view movie/TV services like Netflix and Hulu.

First, the good news…

Like Hulu, Next Issue Media is owned by several big media companies, and at launch they’ve made nearly three dozen titles available. The service’s pricing plans are simple: $10 a month for access to 27 monthly titles, or $15 a month for those plus 5 more weekly titles. Paying $120 to $180 a year for virtual magazine subscriptions isn’t a trivial matter, but the more magazines you like to read regularly, the better the deal gets; you’d pay about the same for individual print subscriptions to just the five weekly titles.

Basic ($10/mo)

  • All You
  • Allure
  • Better Homes and Gardens
  • Car and Driver
  • Coastal Living
  • Condé Nast Traveler
  • Cooking Light
  • Elle
  • Esquire
  • Essence
  • Fitness
  • Fortune
  • Glamour
  • Golf
  • Health
  • InStyle
  • Money
  • Parents
  • People en Español
  • People Style Watch
  • Popular Mechanics
  • Real Simple
  • SI for Kids
  • Southern Living
  • Sunset
  • This Old House
  • Vanity Fair

Premium ($15/mo)

  • Entertainment Weekly
  • People
  • Sports Illustrated
  • The New Yorker
    (only on tablets with 1024×600 resolution or larger)
  • Time
  • plus all the titles in the Basic plan

And now for the bad news!

Before you get too excited, there are of course some big problems, both in usability and consumer rights.

  1. If you own an iPad, Kindle Fire, or Nook, you can’t subscribe. The Next Issue app is only available for Android tablets running Honeycomb or higher, although an iOS version is supposedly in the works.
  2. It’s only being offered to U.S. customers.
  3. The Terms of Service you’re forced to accept wholesale are abusive. This is the case with pretty much every sort of consumer offering these days, but that doesn’t make it ethical or fair. In Next Media’s case, the two biggest problems are:
    • Mandatory binding arbitration, meaning you waive your rights to sue even if the company does something egregious with the service or with your personal information.
    • Lifetime download limits for every issue: no more than 5 devices, and no more than 10 times total.
  4. In addition, I can’t find any information about how long you can keep old issues, or whether you have access to them if you end the plan. (The only information I found on this topic said that Next Media reserves the right to remove any content at any time without warning.) This more or less aligns with the Netflix approach — consumers don’t expect to be able to save permanent copies of the movies they stream on Netflix — but it’s not traditionally how magazine subscriptions have worked, so make sure you understand this and you’re okay with it before signing up.
  5. As you might expect from a magazine company, the privacy policy notes that they’ll use your personal information and activity with the service for advertising purposes. You can request that they remove your information from their system by contacting them at the email address in their Privacy Policy.

Next Media’s executives told All Things D that everything about this venture is an experiment at this point, so everything from the plan pricing to the platform availability may change by the time I publish this post. (However, based on current U.S. business practices, I have no reason to believe the fine print will get any better.) Still, as a former magazine addict who has been consistently disappointed by the digital magazine space, I think this is exciting news.

The real test, however, will be whether or not Next Media can reach all those iPad owners. If Apple okays the Next Media app later this year, it could prove to be a far better alternative to magazines than either Apple’s own Newsstand or the fairly expensive Zinio service.

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