One of the strongest pieces of evidence in support of the existence of an Apple (s aapl) tablet has come into question today. Reports that Condé Nast, publisher of many magazine titles, including The New Yorker and Vogue, was preparing a digital format specifically for the Apple tablet may have overstated the case.
Instead, it looks like Condé Nast and others, including Hearst and Time Inc., are banding together to produce a digital distribution joint venture, which will likely resemble an iTunes store for the magazine industry. The store is apparently being designed with multiple platforms in mind, and is not being specifically targeted at a tablet device from Apple, which may or may not actually exist.
A report in the New York Observer talks about the agreement between the publishing companies, and mentions in particular the fact that the idea is to produce a cross-platform product that’s portable among many different devices:
The company will prepare magazines that can work across multiple digital platforms, whether the iPhone, the BlackBerry or countless other digital devices. The company will not develop an e-book, but create something that people familiar with the plans compare to iTunes—a store where you can buy new and distinct iterations of The New Yorker or Time. Print magazines will also be for sale.
If the deal is successful, according to the interim president of the joint company, John Squires, an official announcement could be forthcoming within weeks, and other major publishers could come on board as well. That doesn’t mean we’ll be seeing a digital newsstand anytime soon, though. Publishers still have to figure out how to create digital versions of the content they aim to provide.
Considering the multiplatform ambitions of the plan, this might be quite a tricky process. Creating a product that remains uniform and recognizable across devices is a major challenge. The consortium simplifies the distribution portion of the equation, though, as a source explained to the Observer:
It’s pretty complicated stuff. The really, really hard part is that you’ve got so many different kinds of devices running on different operating systems. And how do you handle that? The consortium provides one point of contact for the consumer. When you come to the main store, you can get the content any way you want.
It’s possible that this is completely separate from Condé Nast’s plans for Apple’s tablet device, but the timing and nature of the digital distribution scheme make it sound like any tablet formatting may be incidental to a much broader initiative.