Why Nobody’s Going to Be the Netflix of Magazines

Massive and unfettered consumption of digital media is so prevalent it’s spawned its own memes. Binge watching is a thing; it has its own Twitter hashtag. And music fans have become their own station producers with unlimited access to just about any music in the world.

So it’s not a far leap to think that magazines would be a great “next step” in the subscription content model. The problem is, nobody really seems to want it, at least given the current state of digital magazines.

“The idea of banding together into a Netflix of magazines isn’t untested, just unpopular,” states Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg Business Week. Next Issue Media tried it in 2011, and their CEO Morgan Guenther admits to Brustein that “No one has heard of us.”

In an age of rapid and rabid social proof, that doesn’t bode well for Magzter, the newest entrant into the field. According to Paresh Dave in The LA Times, “the all-you-can-consume model of content distribution on the Internet made popular by Netflix and Spotify is set to infiltrate the magazine industry.”

For 10 bucks a month, Dave notes, “readers can now access unlimited digital copies of ESPN the Magazine, Maxim, New York and 2,000 more magazine titles worldwide through a new online service called Magzter Gold.”

The problem is, consumers just aren’t digging digital magazines, something that Magzter’s co-found Vijay Radhakrishnan admits to Dave.

“Digital magazines are growing, but not the way publishers expected,” acknowledged Radhakrishnan. “It’s growing slowly and the engagement level of magazines is not that great.”

That’s not to say that readers don’t enjoy individual articles online; these standalone pieces are easy to digest and share socially, and – maybe most importantly – free. And that, explains Dave, could be a large part of the problem with a pay-to-read digital magazine model.

“Readers have grown used to receiving news, stories and photos for free. As they experiment with ideas like Magzter, some magazines are likely to cut back on what they offer free online,” he notes.

The real issue as we see it is summed up perfectly by Dave when he says “Magzter and its competitors are still struggling with making the experience of reading a magazine online consumer friendly.”

“For instance, how do they replicate the ability of friends to pass around copies of a magazine? Or with individual articles more important to many consumers than an entire issue, how do they create a service in which readers can browse articles by topic, for example, rather than by magazine title? Where does sharing content on social media fit in?” Dave asks.

While the technology exists to make it happen, the desire just doesn’t seem to be there.

“As of today, there is no evidence that magazine readers are clamoring for Netflix like experience, but there is virtually no barrier to entrance for the digital newsstands as magazine publishers continue to jump at nearly any solution that might net incremental subscription dollars and sustain their rate base levels,” notes D.B. Hebbard in Talking New Media.

“The other criticism, this time from the reader side, is that most of the digital newsstands offering these services are offering up PDF replicas to reader that are often hard to read, and rarely as convenient as print, or as interesting as native digital editions,” Hebbard continues, something we’ve noted before makes a digital magazine a less-than-ideal experience.

Consumers will tell on this one. A movie is a movie, regardless of the size of the screen. It is whole and complete unto itself. Same with a song (although we do feel the loss of the carefully crafted “album” experience). A magazine exists as a whole entity, and digital has so far failed to do a good job of replicating the experience.

Until it does, we aren’t likely to see this idea take off.