The iPad may be the biggest tablet game in town but it’s not the only one and *Time* Inc.’s digital publishing strategy reflects it. The new Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) WebOS TouchPad tablet will launch with Time, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated, the Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) publishing unit’s top titles, for subscription: an option the iPad doesn’t yet have. “Time Inc. is going to be extremely involved in the marketplace,” Randall Rothenberg, who took part in today’s HP announcement, promised in his first interview as chief digital officer.
There are going to be more devices and operating systems, he added. “Our goal is to play with all of those that will have us. We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all model around subscriptions.”
The publisher is already developing for Android Honeycomb, while it continues long-running talks with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) over a subscription solution for the iPad. Apple promoted last week’s launch of The Daily, with its weekly and annual subscriptions, but continues to hold back its plans for other publications to follow suit.
“As far as the actual pricing of subscriptions or pricing of individual copies, it’s hard to answer that in the abstract,” Rothenberg said. “There are so many thousands of variations possible. I have to imagine we’ll have big ranges.” Most of Time Inc’s iPad titles are sold only as single issues at newsstand price. Details on the HP subscription pricing will come closer to the device’s expected summer launch.
Rothenberg knows Time Inc. is missing out on customers. “We’ve heard it in spades that consumers are pissed off at the idea that to this point they’re not able to subscribe.” He also knows that managing it device by device isn’t going to hold up in the long term.
Ultimately, though, Time Inc. wants the double rainbow of digital publishing — a single subscription system that works across all devices. Not an unreasonable goal, but one that seems highly unlikely anytime soon.
Time Inc. also has other considerations: finding a way to offer digital access for print subscribers. It’s been able to do that with People for iTunes, where print subscribers can be authenticated for access.”We’re looking at bundles and we have a great desire to sell bundles. That’s one of the things we’re going to be testing.”
The testing also will include magazine JV Next Issue Media, says Rothenberg, who is one of Time Inc.’s reps on the board.