Magazine Consortium Will Launch With Five Partners: News Corp, Hearst, Time, Conde, Meredith

Updated with more about News Corp. The much-discussed magazine consortium will be announced early next week (it looks like Tuesday at this point) with News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). joining Conde Nast, Meredith (NYSE: MDP), Hearst and Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX), paidContent has confirmed from multiple sources. Each is investing in the new company, which plans to create a new digital newsstand, and each will have two members on the board. As expected, Time Inc. vet John Squires will be the interim managing director while the new company searches for a CEO. The board members include Monica Ray, Time Inc.; Bob Sauerberg, Conde Nast; John Houseman, News Corp.; Jack Griffin, Meredith; and John Houseman, News Corp. I’m also told Neeraj Khemlani,of Hearst will be on the board but am clarifying his involvement. I’m also confirming other members; Nat Ives at AdAge says the other board members include Jon Miller, News Corp.’s CEO of Digital Media, and Cathie Black and John Loughlin, Hearst Magazines’ president and EVP/GM, respectively. Update: I’ve confirmed that Khemlani and Loughlin will be Hearst’s board reps; Black is not on the board.

As for the new venture’s name, when I suggested ClownCo was available to an exec from one of the companies, the quick retort was “that worked out pretty well.” ClownCo was the pet name outsiders had for the NBCU-News Corp NewCo JV now known as Hulu. Others have called this a Hulu for magazines but one of those involved scoffed at the notion, getting right to the heart of it: “Hulu is free.” While Hulu likely will add premium content, it started with ad-supported and that will remain a major component. This venture is about dual revenue streams and selling content from the start — add the sale of content from the magazines or newspapers their corresponding sites and content created for digital editions to ad revenue and expanding options for advertising.

News Corp.: Why is News Corp. in a gaggle of magazine publishers? In part, because this digital newsstand isn’t only about magazines; Hearst’s newspapers will be sold there and at least some of News Corp.’s as well. News Corp.’s philosophy from someone familiar with the company’s strategy: “All products should be and must be non-exclusive.” The company, which has become a leading advocate for charging for content (to put it mildly), isn’t giving up on creating its own consortium but wants to be part of multiple efforts across digital publishing. This is just one of the ways News Corp. execs hope to figure out what consumers will respond to — beyond the 1 million-plus WSJ subs. At the same time, the company thinks its experience with those WSJ subs should help other publishers who are starting from scratch.

Not a replacement: While these companies think they have the best chance of establishing a successful digital newsstand together, it doesn’t take the place of individual efforts. Hearst and Time Inc. underscored that this week as the new venture announcement was being planned, each making significant announcements about their own projects. Time Inc. showed off its new approach to producing editorial and advertising for wireless, full-color e-readers and tablets Wednesday; Terry McDonell has been working on that aspect while Squires explored the various business models that helped lead to this new venture. Late Thursday, Hearst went public with Skiff, formerly known as First Paper, and plans for the 2010 launch of an e-reader platform, digital store and dedicated devices. Hearst hopes the consortium and Skiff will work together but people I spoke with stress that the two are separate efforts.

Executives from most, if not all, of these publishers at various times have stressed the need for agnostic solutions that can be used across devices, platforms. Given the fragmentation in the device market, the dominance by walled-garden players like Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), and the split we’re heading toward in gray-scale and color e-readers, anything less and I’d suggest stopping this before any more money goes in.