Maghound offers magazine in a Netflix-style formula

But is this what the dying print industry really needs?

Published September 22, 2008 8:50PM (EDT)

So you've heard of Netflix and probably some of its various offshoots -- Bag Borrow or Steal, Book Swim, Gamefly and so forth. A week ago, a new version of this business model hit the Internets: Maghound. Despite its Web 2.0-esque color scheme and the presence of a "beta" below the company logo, this isn't some new Silicon Valley start-up. Rather, it's the brainchild of Time Inc.

For at least $5 per month, you can get a rotating subscription to various magazines. Not surprisingly, these mainly include Time Inc. titles, like, erm, Time magazine. But there's no Playboy, no Foreign Policy, no Wired, no New Yorker, no Atlantic, no Economist. So you pick three zines, throw down five bucks, and you can change up the titles every month.

Now here's the real question? Will a site like this actually work for printed, ink-and-paper magazines? Based on my own magazine subscriptions, I'm going to say no. I used to get the New Yorker, the Economist, Wired and the Atlantic. Now I only get magazines that I don't pay for, like the California Alumni magazine. I read those other ones online sometimes and then occasionally when friends e-mail me or hand me printed articles. But I probably wouldn't throw down any money -- even just a fiver -- to read a couple issues of some magazine before moving on to another one.

Media guru John Battelle, formerly of Wired magazine, who now sells ads for a stable of blogs and other online properties for his company Federated Media, points out that magazines "can't be saved by a website," and are thus on their way out. Further, he argues, people tend to be loyal to their magazines, often subscribing for years and sometimes keeping the back issues in their library (think of all those National Geographics that you've seen at yard sales), and aren't really all that interested in swapping issues around every month or two.

Winston, one of his commenters, disagrees, saying:

There are plenty of magazines that it would be very strange to be loyal towards! For example, the wife and I bought a number of wedding magazines before we got married. We bought house buying magazines before we purchased our home. DIY when fixing up the house. Laptop guides before buying a new PC.

Nope, I'm with Battelle on this. There's no way that a site like this can survive -- even with the deep pockets of Time Inc. behind it. I give it 18 months before Time pulls the plug.

By Cyrus Farivar

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