Time Inc’s attempt to launch MagHound, a “Netflix of magazines,” in September is a great idea, and on the face of it something that should succeed. What’s better than getting to choose the magazines you want every month, rather than being stuck with multiple subscriptions to mags that will sometimes be dogs, and sometimes have a story or two you’re really interested in? (I know I’m not the only one who’s subscribed to a magazine after figuring that it’s cheaper than buying three copies at the newsstand. I know I’m also not the only one who’ll forego subscriptions to avoid not having the 8 or 10 “dog” issues of a monthly pile up.) I have in the past tried to get friends to participate in a "magazine trading" circle, where we all subscribe to 1 or 2 mags, then swap and share, but it never worked.
So, on the surface, it seems a great idea to charge $4.95 for three on up to $9.95 for seven magazines per month. But there are a few of reasons MagHound won’t work upon launch -- and they have largely to do with how this isn’t like Netflix:
* MagHound won’t have all the most desirable magazines. At least one major publishing house hasn’t signed up, nor have a few of the lesser that nevertheless have desirable titles.
* Unlike Netflix, fulfillment won’t be in 1 or 2 days. It’s more likely weeks. And even longer when fulfillment is from a house other than Time. One reason to subscribe to something like this is because, say, you hear about a hot story in Vanity Fair or Foreign Policy, and you want to get the mag shipped to you pronto to read it. But those magazines may not be available, and the won’t get there while you still remember why you wanted them.
* For Time, it’s not as winning a model as for Netflix, because it doesn’t buy the magazine once and then get to use it time and again for the price of two stamps, plus logistics and handling. Plus, postage for a magazine is horribly expensive compared to the sublimely engineered DVD packages Netflix devised.
If people wanted digital editions or a Web site, mobile edition, whatever-- which Time might consider offering at a discount, or they would offer some other digital access -- for an all-you-can-eat price, it might make more sense. (Oh, wait, that was called AOL.) Or if print-on-demand could be handled on a mass-customization level, where magazines were printed and bound quickly (and I mean like TODAY) as they’re ordered... but helas.
In theory, I love the concept. Get any magazine I want, for one subscription price. I’d of course prefer even more to get whatever I want at the Chris Anderson price of “$0”. Or at least the immediate gratification of click and BLAM, it’s here. (Even Amazon doesn’t take a week.) I hope MagHound refines its model before September and gets closer to what people really want in 2008.