Time, Apple, Reach Agreement On Content Distribution

The news magazine Time and Apple announced a deal today that will give print subscribers full access to the iPad versions of its magazines for free, including publications like Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and Time itself. The deal is a potent demonstration of how disappointed most publications have been over the growth of iPad subscriptions. Apple's announcement of the feature last year sparked a great deal of initial interest, but the majority of companies are unhappy with the 70/30 revenue split Apple demands.

Subscriber data has proved to be another flash point. Under the terms Apple offers, companies are not allowed to independently sell access to iPad versions of their content through their own stores or interfaces. All subscriptions (and therefore, all subscriber data) flows through Apple's gateway and would only be forwarded to the publications themselves on an opt-in basis. Up to now, consumers tended to approve of such systems; attitudes could change in the wake of Apple's location 'bug.'  Apple never did anything nefarious with the data, but the scope of the data log and the poor security with which it was protected could leave customers thinking twice about just how safe their data is with Apple.

Publishers want to expand content offerings on the iPad, but not through ceding all control to Apple

Beggars, however, can't be choosers, and Time is in rough shape. The company is currently helmed by a three-man team after ousting its CEO in February, whilee it's no longer bleeding cash, its long-term plans to return to profitability are murky. Growth prospects in traditional outlets are also limited; there are precious few print publications expanding in the US market. Time itself has returned to the black by slashing $900 million in costs over the past three years, an amount so vast we imagine staff rooms outfitted with a picture of cofee with the word "IMAGINE" printed underneath. At present, the company's strategy is to adapt the "TV Everywhere" model for itself, by which it means that magazine content should be available wherever and whenever a customer looks for it.

The new joint agreement does not cover new subscription sales. Publishers continue to claim they need access to subscription data in order to craft a better online experience that can compete with other sites and online publications. Apple continues to balk at this point, a fact that leaves magazines no choice but to publish for the iPad one issue at a time.

Both sides can claim to be defending consumer rights—Apple will only share subscription data with publishers if readers opt-in to doing so, while the print media notes that giving Apple sole control over subscription data would give the company a monopoly on personal information on hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of readers. It comes as little surprise that publishers have soured on the iPad as a deus ex machina to solve their revenue problems. In this case, existing Time readers are getting a little extra value for their subscriptions, but long-term distribution and profit agreements remain a problem.