Next Issue CEO Talks Time Inc. Spin Off, the 'Wild West' of Publishing

Next Issue Morgan Guenther Inset - H 2013
Next Issue Media

CEO Morgan Guenther tells THR that the all-access model of his company, a joint venture between News Corp., Time Inc. and other major publishers, could help pave the future for the industry.

On Wednesday, following in the footsteps of News Corp., Time Warner announced plans to spin off its publishing arm, Time Inc. As both companies separate from their bundling with entertainment assets, the hunt for additional revenue is sure to become more intense.

Next Issue Media thinks it can help by offering an all-access model for digital magazine consumption: Users pay a flat fee and get access to dozens of top publications. 

"We don’t think that the concept of ownership makes any sense in the digital world, generally," says the company's CEO, Morgan Guenther, in a phone interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "The fundamental premise of all-access is a big move for the industry, but it makes sense, I think, to us."

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Next Issue is a co-venture between major U.S. magazine publishers -- News Corp., Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst and Meredith. Outlets like CNBC and AllThingsD have deemed the company the Netflix or Hulu of magazines because it offers users access to dozens of popular magazines for $9.99 (or $14.99 for premium titles).

The company provides revenue to publishers based on how much time each user spends reading a magazine in the app. "We split revenue on the basis of dwell time. It’s very democratic," says Guenther. "The time you spend on a magazine gets credited to that magazine, and we look at that every month for the publishers."

As of now, Next Issue has 120,000 total users, 50,000 of whom are paying subscribers, Guenther told THR. A year and a half from now, he hopes the total number of users hits 1 million. But, as News Corp. and Time Inc. face tough questions as they transition, will they want to continue the partnership in the long term? 

"This has been a big investment and a big proposition from our partners, and they see the vision," Guenther responds, adding: "Don’t expect to see any changes here." 

The promise of Next Issue is that it offers publishers a paid, closed ecosystem separate from the web. It differentiates itself from Apple's app store by the flat fee to access all titles, hence the Netflix comparison (although Guenther thinks a more apt comparison may be to HBO GO, which offers more premium content). The app launched on the iPad in 2012, and this week it became available on Windows 8 devices.

In some ways, it is the opposite of news apps like Flipboard and Zite. Those apps "are very utilitarian, and they provide you with a great ability to access content, programming and the like very quickly. They are web-scrapers," Guenther says. Next Issue, meanwhile, offers users the immersive, yet limited, experience of flipping the pages of a single magazine.

The company's goal of creating a uniform print-magazine-style reading experience is made potentially difficult because publishers decide how interactive they want to make their digital versions.

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"The individual titles generally make the decision as to whether an interactive experience, a made-for-tablet experience" is something they want to offer or whether "a slightly interactive PDF is the right way to go, so we really take our cues from them," Guenther explains. 

Wired, for instance, boasts videos, links and digital-only content, whereas New York magazine, on Next Issue, is little more than a PDF version of the print edition. 

"The publishing industry is still wide open on ... how important is interactivity, how much interactivity, how important is file size, download time, all that," Guenther explains. "It’s still the Wild West out there today."