The Time Warner unit -- which is not nearly so robust as in the days when ink on paper was the only way to get smart news, analysis and features -- recently offered an update on its Maghound project, which professes to do for single copies of magazines what Neflix did for movie rentals.
Subscribe to Maghound, the pitch goes, and pick the magazines you'd like to get each month. Maybe you want fashion magazines in the fall, when the new styles are unveiled. Perhaps you want to make sure to get the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (though if you like to look at new fall fashions and scantily clad models, you're unlike any subscriber we know).
Here's the thing: This isn't how people choose their magazines -- and it certainly isn't what advertisers want out of the medium. I subscribe to, well, let's say Fish Food Monthly, because I'm a big saltwater-fish fan. I can't get enough of those features on whether or not bloodworms are better than krill or brine shrimp. Advertisers like me -- and Fish Food Monthly -- because they know they can reach me via that specific magazine over the course of several issues to talk to me about pet-care products and any sort of service that would appeal to a fish fiend.
Start me on Maghound, and suddenly I'm not as easily targeted. I'm picking up Esquire one month and Better Homes & Gardens the next. What demographic profile do I fit now? We're guessing Maghound will be able to track purchases and activity and somehow accumulate that in a way that would maintain the reader-advertiser connection, but it won't be easy.
This just scratches the surface. Will publishers be able to promote coming issues so Maghound users will know to pick them? Movies on DVD benefit from substantial ad budgets that make impressions in consumers' minds. I already know, for instance, that I want to watch "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" on DVD because of the marketing budget behind the in-theater release. Not too sure that applies to the next issue of Cosmo, though.
Subscribers using Maghound likely will read the magazines they've chosen until they tire of one or another and substitute something else. To the degree Maghound helps keep people reading magazines in that way, rather than killing a subscription and turning on "Law & Order" instead, it's a welcome arrival.