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A Netflix of Magazines?

Folio reports that Time Inc. is starting a new magazine-subscription service called Maghound that sounds a bit like Netflix’s movie model: allows consumers to choose titles from a variety of publishers for mix-and-match “subscriptions” where they pay one monthly fee and have the ability to switch titles at any time. Unlike traditional subscriptions, members aren’t locked in their memberships and can cancel whenever they wish. Ventresca says that offers “flexibility, choice, control, and personalization.”

Will it work? Here’s what’s interesting to me about this model:

1. One magazine publisher has built a distribution channel to sell not only its own magazines but those of other publishers as well. There’s an obvious efficiency at work but will Conde Nast, e.g., really be happy to put an extra dollar in Time Inc.’s pocket for every Conde Nast subscription it sells?

2. I don’t sense that magazine readers are dying to swap subscriptions very often. Part of the appeal of receiving a magazine is knowing your way around its format, its style, its idioms. Of course I may be totally wrong about that; I order new magazine subscriptions all the time and inevitably hate them after four issues. Also, the model doesn’t suffer if people don’t swap: they pay the same regardless, and it’s less work for Maghound if they don’t swap.

3. The magazine industry is hardly a world-beater these days, but magazines seem to be holding up far better than newspapers in the face of the internet. According to the Magazine Publishers of America, circulation at the top 100 magazines rose 1.9 percent from 2006 to 2007. Newspaper circulation, meanwhile, is falling — in some cases hard and fast.

This disparity probably makes sense when you consider that a lot of magazine content is more appealing on glossy paper than newspaper content is on newsprint, which means that a computer screen is a worse substitute for magazines than for newspapers. Also, newspapers are far more dependent than magazines on classified ad money, and that’s one form of revenue that’s been making a fast and furious migration to the internet.

To me, one of the biggest advantages of something like Maghound is far more prosaic: having one channel through which to handle all your magazine subscriptions, rather than having to hassle with that constant flood of mail from every magazine, reminding you 4 or 6 times that your subscription will be expiring in a mere 12 months.

(Hat tip: Romenesko.)