Time Inc. wants to take us on

So the idea is, a bunch of magazine publishers will get together and form their own digital distribution company, the way the TV networks did with Hulu. That way they don’t get screwed by me and Bezos. Nice idea, but we’re having none of it.
Peter Kafka of AllThingsD, who broke the story on this, doesn’t quite come out and say that it won’t work, so let me do it for him. It won’t work. For one thing, the project began as a way to “put the digital genie back in the bottle.” In other words, they’re playing defense. Supposedly Hearst and Conde Nast are going to get on board, and they’ll get others involved too, so let’s try to imagine what those meetings are going to be like. And let’s pretty much figure they won’t be making any super quick decisions.

But they face some real problems — one being content. As in, they ain’t got none. As Kafka points out:

They’ll have to create content consumers want to buy. The new product can’t simply be a digital version of the magazines they’re already printing: That’s already available on the Web, and consumers have shown almost no interest in paying for it, and advertisers haven’t fully embraced it either.

Ah, there’s the rub. So far these guys can’t come up with anything new that’s unique to digital. All they’ve done is repurposed their print stuff and put it online.

Another issue, of course, is that they want to band together and make their content available on all sorts of different e-reader platforms, but they don’t want to give up control of distribution, and they also want to remain in control of the advertising. Otherwise they’re just working for us, and they’re at our mercy. Oddly enough, they don’t like that idea. Oddly enough, we do. And while it may be true that “content is king,” right now we’ve got the leverage. We’re the ones with the cool platform. We’re the ones with the hardware. They need us more than we need them. Sure, some e-reader dorks will play ball with these guys. But they won’t be Apple. As Kafka points out:

Apple for instance, refuses to even acknowledge to Time Inc. executives that it plans to produce a tablet device, let alone provide them with specs.

So it’s one big game of chicken. We’re sticking to our guns, and pushing ahead with the Tablet, and we won’t let them play in our sandbox unless they play by our rules. They’re going to hold back their content until we agree to play by their rules. And what it comes down to, really, is which seems sexier to the average consumer: a gleaming new Apple tablet that’s overflowing with a sense of childlike wonder, or Time magazine?

We’ll see who wins, but I know one thing: I like our chances.