For those who haven't heard of it, Next Issue is best described as the Netflix of magazines: It's an app that, for a monthly fee, gives you all-you-can-read access to a large library of digital magazines. It first launched on Android in 2012 and eventually made its way to the iPad and Windows devices, although it's been ages since it received any substantial updates. That changes today, however: The app is relaunching with a new look, new features and even a new name -- it's called "Texture" now, thank you very much.
Although the app has the same concept, and is priced the same as before ($10 a month and up), it now places a bigger emphasis on individual articles, as opposed to just whole issues. For starters, there's a "New & Noteworthy" section, curated by human editors behind the scenes. That same team also puts together "Curated Collections," groups of stories around a theme -- say, the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On the other hand, you can be a curator too, and save stories to your own collections. In that respect, Next Issue's new approach reminds me not just of Netflix, but Spotify too. I could, if I wanted, listen to the same songs on repeat or read the same two fashion magazines. Or, I could avail myself of playlists (collections) curated by humans with good taste. I like that I can do both.
To be clear, you can still mark whole magazines as your favorites and set the app to automatically download new editions as they come in. But Next Issue, which is owned by a handful of traditional media companies like Conde Nast, knows that nowadays people are used to getting their news on Twitter, web logs and Facebook. To the extent that you're used to just clicking on random links, it was important to Next Issue that Texture look a little like a home page. And indeed it does.
Also like a regular news site, there's a built-in search feature that gives you access to an archive of more than 15,000 back issues and 500,000 stories, which you can read separately from their original issues. So, if I typed in the word "marathon" (I'm a marathoner), I'd see articles not just from Runner's World, which I subscribe to, but also Running Times, which I never read. That's obviously good for publishers, which want to gain new readers. (Next Issue Media pays them based on how much time readers spend reading their stories, so there's an incentive to reach more people if possible.)
But this design is good for me too: If we're going to continue comparing Texture to Netflix, then it's worth pointing out that one of the things that makes Netflix so appealing is the way it helps us discover new stuff. If Netflix is great because of its algorithm, and cable TV is great because of its TV guide, then Texture is compelling because it can point me toward things I wouldn't have read otherwise.
Texture arrives just as Apple is launching its own news app, albeit with a very different approach. Apple News is free, and only includes access to articles from websites. That means you'll get some magazine stories -- say an article from Wired.com -- but never whole issues. At first glance, Apple might seem to be the winner, if only because it doesn't cost anything. But remember, Texture's monthly fee includes magazines -- complete editions that you'd have to pay for regardless, either through a subscription or at a newsstand. If you primarily read news sites, you're better off with Apple News or a similar app like Flipboard. But if you love magazines, you're going to have to pony up at some point, and you only have to download a few titles each month before Texture's $10 fee becomes worth it.
Texture is available in the US and Canada, with subscriptions starting at $10 a month for monthly magazines only. There's also a $15-month-tier that includes weeklies as well. If you go with that plan, you can expect around 160 titles in total. Look for the updated app tomorrow on iOS, Android and Windows.