Bite Out of Apple?

Time Inc. has finally found a good way to sell magazine subscriptions on tablets—a step forward for an industry whose hopes for the iPad fizzled when Apple wouldn’t give publishers acceptable sales terms.

Last week, Time Inc. struck an agreement to sell subscriptions to some of its leading titles—including Time, Sports Illustrated and People—on Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad tablet, which is due to be released this summer. It followed that with an announcement of an all-access version of Sports Illustrated in Google’s Android Market that will sell print-digital bundles.

“What you’re seeing now with HP and SI All-Access is an ongoing series of rolling announcements around relationships that all aim at the same goal: We want our content everywhere our consumers want it to be,” Randall Rothenberg, Time Inc.’s new chief digital officer, told Adweek. Importantly, HP will give Time Inc. subscriber data, he said, something that wasn’t forthcoming from Apple. Publishers believe that data is crucial to their ability to secure renewals and cross sell to their customers.  

Still, Time Inc. can’t ignore Apple, which dominates the tablet market. Android devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab aren’t iPad killers yet, and when the TouchPad comes out this summer, it’ll be more than a year behind Apple’s entry.

“The marketplace will be dominated by Apple for a while,” Rothenberg conceded. “At the same time, the shape of this marketplace is relatively unknown. It’s a hell of a lot more diverse than earlier predictors would make it.”

As for whether publishers’ headway with other device makers will move Apple to come out with more publisher-friendly terms, Rothenberg said, “I don’t think anyone can really put pressure on Apple.” Still, he said conversations with the software giant continue. “We’re very hopeful we’ll be able to sell subscriptions in the iTunes store at some point.”