StarHub e-magazine store set for October launch

SINGAPORE - StarHub is poised to be the latest telco to jump into the e-magazine fray with a service that is slated for launch early next month, The Business Times has learnt.

This e-magazine service, which currently has the working name of StarHub eMags, will have a website storefront and an app. It will be open to all consumers, including non-StarHub subscribers, according to a source.

The Android version of the app is expected to be launched first, followed by an iOS app for Apple devices later in the year. At least 50 titles are supposed to populate the store at launch-time.

"We believe digital publishing in Singapore has growth potential, given the high penetration of smart mobile devices among consumers here," said Stephen Lee, head of StarHub's i³ division, when contacted by BT on Thursday. i³ is a relatively new division of the telco, set up to handle the group's digital doings.

"We launched Booktique earlier this year, and we continue to explore the use of other digital publishing platforms, including an e-magazine store, to distribute digital content in order to support different reading habits," Mr Lee added.

Booktique, an e-bookstore which launched with 400,000 titles in March, was StarHub's answer to skoob, which is backed by rival telco SingTel.

BT understands that StarHub's e-magazine service will be backed by a partnership between the telco and an external company that handles the technical and platform development. This could help StarHub sidestep the costly and ungainly endeavour of developing an unfamiliar product from scratch.

The e-magazine store will be fuelled by at least two revenue sources - a cut of magazine sales and ad revenue, according to a source that BT spoke to. On the magazine sales front, StarHub is likely to encounter the hefty commissions that app stores levy on in-app purchases.

Both the Apple app store and Google Play - which distributes the Android apps - take a 30 per cent cut from in-app sales. Such rates have been the bane of other e-magazine distributors whose margins have been hemmed in by app store commissions and revenue-sharing with magazine publishers.

de!ite, the e-magazine store launched by SingTel in late 2010, numbered among the casualties of the brutal economics of e-publishing. It folded last June after less than three years, hobbled by lacklustre takeup, among various things.

StarHub, however, has the advantage of trailing its older and larger competitor onto the minefield that is e-publishing. One of the popular ways to avoid paying the app store commission is to build a mobile website through which readers can subscribe to publications.

This way, payments will be made through the site and the app will only be used to display the magazine. If StarHub goes down this route, the website that it plans to have for this service will come in handy. At the same time, StarHub will have the option of billing its own subscribers directly for e-magazines, which provides yet another avenue to avoid the app store tax.

While e-publications might make for a thankless business, the telco-agnostic nature of such ventures suggests that telcos have their eye on the long game. StarHub's Booktique, for example, requires buyers to sign up for a free Hub iD account, helping it to establish a relationship with its rivals' subscribers. It will be little surprise if its e-magazine store follows in the same vein.

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