I spend a lot of time here pondering media industry business models, and I'm particularly interested in how traditional media providers are trying to reinvent their business models in response to new marketplace developments. One of the more interesting models I've been waiting to see rolled out is called "MagHound--The Magazine Lover's Best Friend." Time Inc. is the creator. I am a magazine lover--my house is practically wallpapered with magazines--and MagHound offers folks like me an intriguing business proposition: Instead of an annual subscription to a magazine, just pay MagHound a small monthly fee and then pick-and-choose which magazines you want each month. Essentially, it's "Netflix for magazines," as several other bloggers have already noted.
Unfortunately, the service has just been vaporware for the past few years. A website has been up and running for awhile now, but it doesn't provide many details. There's a small blurb about the service on the Time Inc. press releases website that says the service will launched in the second half of 2008 with over 200 magazines being offered. Pricing details were not offered there, but a recent Ad Age article said that the users will get 3 magazines for $4.95 a month, $7.95 a month for five, or $9.95 a month for seven. Again, people can mix and match online according to taste.
Will it work? I'm skeptical that 200 magazines will be enough to draw in a big enough audience to sustain the service. What makes Netflix so great is not just the convenience factor--no need to drive to video stores anymore--but also the huge selection they offer. Every once and awhile I will search for an obscure movie on Netflix and come up empty. But that's fairly rare. Netflix still has a massive back catalog for movie buffs like me.
But here's another question: Will truly loyal magazine readers use the MagHound service? For those of us who have long been addicted to certain mags (for me it's National Geographic, Wired, PC World, Sound & Vision, ESPN: The Magazine, and many others!), we couldn't imagine living without our favorite titles for even one month, Why, then, would I bother with MagHound? The answer, I suppose, is to experience and get addicted to even more magazines!! But then I would just subscribe to them on an annual basis as well, right?
Also, what happens as more magazines go online, or at least a large portion of their content does? That might not bode well for MagHound's long-term viability.
Regardless, it's great to see new media business models like this developing. It's just another sign how dynamic the media marketplace really is.