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Next Issue Looks Gorgeous but Lacks Personality

By Patrick Nelson
Dec 7, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Next Issue Looks Gorgeous but Lacks Personality

Next Issue, an app from Next Issue Media, is available for a monthly subscription price of US$9.99 at Google Play. Next Issue

Unlimited, on-demand content for a fixed monthly fee? Where have we heard that before?

The answer is that we've heard it from Spotify for music and from Netflix for movies.

Now, from a consortium of Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time Inc., we have Next Issue, a similar concept for delivering magazines in Android tablet app form.

Next Issue promises unlimited access to some of the world's best magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, Esquire, Elle and others, for an all-inclusive monthly subscription.

Think Spotify, in that you hand over a ten spot or so monthly and get to listen to all the music you want. You never actually own the music as you would do with hard media like a CD, but you virtually rent it. This is the same idea.

I've been using this model for my music collection despite ultimately not owning anything.

Here's why I don't care: While not exactly what the economist Keynes meant, the adage "In the long run we're all dead" applies here. I'm not taking any CDs where I'm going -- and I ain't taking any magazines either.

Cost vs. Content

Although I have embraced online news reading and don't miss hard copy magazines at all, I was keen to try the Next Issue app, because it -- wrongly as it turned out -- appeared to include Wired magazine. A cover image of Wired was featured in the Next Issue advertising video I watched.

Wired is a magazine I like to read. It carefully separates its dot-com text from its tree- media version, and much of its best content is unobtainable online for free. In hard media form, Wired costs $19.99 for 12 issues. That includes the printed magazine plus tablet access. Next issue could have filled the gap.

Disappointingly, at $9.99 a month, Next Issue can't compete in a fiscal sense if all you want to read is one magazine. The first month is free, but Next Issue needs to be clearer about which titles are available.

Drum Roll, Please

The full list of available titles, as listed in Google Play:

All You
Better Homes and Gardens (10-inch tablet only)
Car and Driver (10- inch tablet only)
Coastal Living
Conde Nast Traveler
Cooking Light
ELLE (10-inch tablet only)
Entertainment Weekly
Golf Magazine
People en Espanol
People Style Watch
Popular Mechanics
Real Simple
Southern Living
Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated Kids
The New Yorker (7-inch tablet only)
This Old House
Vanity Fair

What to Read?

Lacking Wired in the guts of the app, I couldn't find anything else I wanted to read -- at least regularly.

Over a leisurely meal, I passed a 10-inch tablet with the Next Issue app to a magazine-reading friend who works in the fashion industry, and she couldn't find more than one magazine she wanted to read.

She chose Elle and liked the experience but was horrified at the $9.99 a month cost. My friend in fact obtains Elle for free via an airline miles transaction.

"Where's Women's Wear Daily?" she asked, stabbing at the app's index.

WWD is not on the list. In saying that, I think she hit the nail on the head.

Free Market Research

Next Issue, forget trying to re-create the doctor's waiting room on a tablet. Here's some free market research: After much discussion, what my friend and I decided we wanted and might be prepared to pay for were faithful reproductions of the print versions of taste- maker magazines within our respective verticals.

For example, my fashion industry friend wants Elle plus WWD and both United States and United Kingdom Vogue and not much else.

We think Next Issue needs to sell subscription plans by industry, not by waiting room.

The App

Enough of the complimentary market research -- on to the app itself.

The magazines themselves looked gorgeous on-screen. We used Elle as our comparison between print and screen, and the photographs looked vibrant -- almost TV-like. Font size was acceptable, and it was nice to read a faithful facsimile of the magazine for a change, rather than the hacked-together RSS feed a la Pulse app and Currents that I'm used to.

My friend thought the visual experience was as enjoyable as print.

Niggling Issues

Load times were slow at first but an automatic download function improved matters. We experienced the occasional crash with Elle but not with my compromised magazine choice, Car and Driver.

Feature-creep includes video and other embedded content -- worth trying though, I suppose.

This is a minor gripe, but we couldn't smell the perfume ads that are embedded in the print version. The tablet smelled... well, like a tablet.

In Conclusion

Overall, Next Issue has got something, but it needs to decide what it is. Do we really need an electronic doctor's waiting room for $10 a month? Or is what we really want business intelligence, for which we'd pay more?

In any case, it's an encouraging step forward for the beleaguered magazine -- and possibly newspaper -- industry. No perfume, but no inky fingers either.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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