A couple of recent announcements demonstrate that large publishers – particularly in the US – are working to create better digital magazines. Hearst has teamed up with Skiff to create a “magazine e-reader”, whilst several publishers including Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corporation and Time Inc.have joined forces to define a “storefront" – i.e. a consistent portal for accessing digital magazines.

The fact that publishers are putting resources into ensuring the technology for reading electronic magazines develops rapidly is great news. I’m also much less worried about the impending battle between publishers and digital media companies such as Apple and Amazon, provided that there is a way to distribute controlled circulation titles. In fact digital distribution may not only provide the valuable information about who has read a magazine, but would also allow other readers to get copies even if they fall outside the terms of control (assuming that publishers do continue to manage their terms of control!). Advertisers and publishers can then argue about whether the additional readers justify a higher rate, although hopefully everyone understands that controlled circulation is worth A LOT more than uncontrolled circulation.

One thing, however, does worry me. Although it’s not surprising the main focus of activity is in the USA, I really don’t want publishers using delivery platforms, whether “storefronts” or e-readers to compete. I’d like the publications with the best content to win, rather than those from the publishing houses with the financial resources to invest in delivery technology. This has to be a particular concern in Europe, as many publishers – particularly in the electronics media – are relatively small companies. Having said this, I can’t see that any publisher is going to win by fragmenting the delivery systems: there is no way anyone would accept having to own multiple e-readers to allow them to read titles from different publishers that have chosen different hardware platforms. As long as the publishers strive to create the best content and make it available on all platforms, the hardware manufacturers work on producing the best e-readers, and the readers are allowed an unrestricted choice of publication and platform, then we could see a dramatic recovery in the financial fortunes of magazine publishers.