US magazine publishers launch digital newsstand

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US magazine and newspaper publishers Conde Nast, Hearst, Meridith, News Corp. and Time Inc. teamed up on Tuesday to launch an ambitious digital newsstand for electronic devices.

The joint venture, which has been described as an "iTunes for magazines," aims to develop common standards for presenting newspapers and magazines on portable devices ranging from smartphones to electronic readers to laptops.

The venture comes at a time of declining circulation and print advertising revenue for US magazines and newspapers and the loss of many readers to free news on the Web.

The digital platform will offer advertising opportunities and be open to other publishers who want to offer their content, the five major publishers, who claim an audience of 144 million readers, said in a joint statement.

"Publishers will derive revenue from content and advertising sales, as well as from print subscriptions," they said.

"In addition to entirely new magazine and newspaper reading experiences, content selections may ultimately include books, comic books, blogs and other media," they added.

Time executive John Squires, who is serving as interim managing director of the venture, said that once purchased, the "content will be 'unlocked' for consumers to enjoy anywhere, anytime, on any platform.

"For the consumer, this digital initiative will provide access to an extraordinary selection of engaging content products, all customized for easy download on the device of their choice, including smartphones, e-readers and laptops," he said.

Forrester Research estimates that some 10 million e-readers will be sold in the United States by the end of 2010.

But advertisers and readers have generally been underwhelmed by the presentation of newspapers and magazines on the devices.

The e-readers on the market such as Amazon's Kindle also do not currently support advertising and are tailored more to e-books than periodicals.

Time Inc. publishes flagship Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, People and other magazines.

Conde Nast owns The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue while Hearst publishes the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle newspapers as well as Esquire, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping magazines.

Meridith publications include Better Homes, Family Circle, Fitness, Parents and other magazines while News Corp. properties include The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Times of London, The Australian and other newspapers.

Hearst last week separately announced plans to launch a digital newsstand, advertising service and electronic reader for newspapers and magazines called "Skiff."