If you are hesitating about subscriptions to digital versions of popular magazines, there is an all-you-can-read subscription option. A joint effort of five major publishers, Next Issue Media is now open for business.

The new approach, originally demonstrated in a beta version last May, is an attempt to spur greater readership of digitally-based magazines, since, according to Ad Age magazine, digital magazines currently account for only about 1 percent of the total paid and verified circulation for such publications. And that's including a doubling of digital circulation in the last half of 2011.

Android, then iPad

Next Issue's single newsstand approach is a joint effort of five major publishers -- Hearst, Conde Nast, Time, Meredith and News Corp. Next Issue is available for tablets with Android 3.0 or later, and a version for Apple's iPad is expected to be released soon.

Currently, Next Issue offers 32 titles, including Car and Driver, The New Yorker, Real Simple, Esquire, InStyle, Money, Popular Mechanics, This Old House, Vanity Fair, Essence, Fortune, Glamour, Better Homes and Gardens, Conde Nast Traveler, and People. The basic idea is that digital magazines can increase their readership by using a subscription model with a single distribution point, not unlike Netflix.

The super-newsstand sells magazine titles individually, as well as offering them together through a subscription. All monthly and bi-weekly magazines are available for $9.99 per month in the Unlimited Basic plan, and, for an additional $5, the Unlimited Premium package will add all weeklies.

The company said it currently has a subscriber base of tens of thousands of customers, with each customer reading an average of two magazines. Customers can also read digital versions of magazines if they are already print subscribers to that title, and a 30-day free trial is available.

'Model-Changing Product'

A newsstand approach for digital versions of magazines is also being tested by other publishers. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Gannett have created Ongo to aggregate news content for subscribers, free apps for reading aggregated content include Flipboard, and Apple's Newstand organizes a user's magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

Industry observer Ken Doctor of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard posted Wednesday on that organization's blog that Next Issue Media will be "a model-changing product for publishers."

He pointed out that magazine publishers have embraced digital media more quickly than newspaper publishers, who were more concerned about losing revenue from classified ads. In particular, the popularity of tablets has presented a platform that appears ready-made for magazines, and the hit Sports Illustrated digital magazine, one of the first for tablets, has demonstrated an appealing presentation model.

The Next Issue approach, Doctor said, has the advantages of offering a single navigational structure, a relatively simple pricing model, and an added value for print customers.

We asked Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, if he believed Next Issue would change the world of magazine subscriptions. He said it could well do that, if there is an indication that Next Issue will become successful, since "it will grow over time as more publishers feel the need to join" in order to sustain a presence in the digital world.