The Internet is, theoretically, the Great Unbundler—atomizing newspaper bales into URLs, and replacing albums with streaming tracks—yet companies keep trying to stuff all that unbundled goodness back into new bundles, for a price. With the proven success of Netflix (57 million global subscribers) and Spotify (15 million), several ventures are trying to introduce this concept to the world of magazines, with uneven returns.
Next Issue Media was born in 2011, with some of the largest magazine publishers onboard. Charging $15 per month for access to about 140 magazines via phone or tablet, it's built an audience of a couple hundred thousand subscribers, Joshua Brustein reports in Bloomberg Businessweek. Brustein notes that this week Magzter, another newsstand of digital apps, is launching a similar service with access to "2,000 magazines—including Maxim, ESPN the Magazine, and Fast Company—although not to any of the 25 most popular magazines at U.S. newsstands." But as Brustein writes, a Netflix for magazines remains the impossible dream of the industry.
What Next Issue and Magzter are principally offering is a Netflix for something far less popular than magazines: magazine apps. Many magazines still have print circulations well into the millions—National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, and Time all top 3 million—with monthly online audiences in the tens of millions. But far fewer people are paying extra for the apps. Take out Game Informer Magazine, which offers discounts along with its digital subscription, and there is no magazine in the country with more than 300,000 app subscribers.