Maybe it’s a true vote of confidence for magazine apps, despite recent reports of their sales drop-offs. There are now more than a few digital newsstands in production or existence, but are we watching a market being made or fractured beyond recognition?

That might be an irrelevant question. Like their physical world counterparts, publishers could simply populate specific newsstands with apps until sales performance dictates resource allocation. Or, since we’re talking digital content here and presumably cheap and easy distribution, the outlet might not matter so much as making sure all bases are covered.

In the meantime, Apple, potentially Google and home team Next Issue Media are all reportedly working on their one-stop shops for digital periodicals, while Barnes & Noble, Amazon and some of the digital magazine vendors, such as Zinio, are already offering a newsstand experience.

What does this mean for the consumer? There are a host of issues that not only impact availability, but pricing. The inherent competitive nature among the big newsstand providers could create headaches for publishers and consumers-not to mention any early trip-ups by publishers in the design and pricing of their apps.

Is it simply about which newsstand has the most marketing power? How will partnership terms impact distribution and pricing? How will devices, and their operating systems, dictate transactions? Will we see "exclusives" where certain titles are available through some vendors/devices and not others? The TV Guide app managed to be selected to debut Apple’s first iAd, maybe we’ll see similar horse trading going on between publishers and digital newsstand providers.

Next Issue Media’s play will be interesting to watch as well. Given that it has the inside track to the JV publishers’ own customers, as well as its intention to maintain control of consumer data, it might become a more comfortable partner for other publishers to work with. The company has already indicated its storefront launch this year will only be compatible with devices running Google’s Android system-unless Apple decides to get on board as well.

All of this, of course, hinges on whether the magazine app will be seen long-term as a viable product by consumers and/or a profitable one for publishers.

Bill Mickey is executive editor of Audience Development magazine.

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