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Tuesday, November 24, 2009, 06:35 am PT (09:35 am ET)

Rival publishers rumored to align for iTunes-like magazine store

Time Inc., Condé Nast and Hearst are rumored to be among a number of competing publishers that will come together and create an iTunes-style digital store for selling magazines on devices like Apple's iPhone and rumored tablet.

The joint company will make more than 50 popular magazines — including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time, People and Sports Illustrated — available for a variety of devices, including Apple's iPhone. According to The New York Observer, the consortium has not yet reached a final agreement, though an official deal could be "announced within weeks."

The consortium's alleged plans have been known for some time, though no official announcements have been made. But now, the agreement is reportedly "very close" to becoming final.

Expected to play a part in the new digital distribution product is Apple's still-unannounced tablet device, due to arrive in 2010. In October, people familiar with the group led by Time Inc. said that the associated publishers are targeting Apple's tablet, and have had discussions with the hardware maker about putting their magazines on the device.

Numerous reports in recent months have suggested Apple has been reaching out to content publishers, including The New York Times, McGraw Hill and Oberlin Press, to get them to make their publications available for purchase on the forthcoming device.

The forming of the group of publishers has reportedly been spearheaded by John Squires, executive vice president with Time Inc. Sources allegedly told The Observer that Squires will leave his current position to become the interim executive of the new collaborative company, when it is formed.

Magazine publishers are reportedly wary of attempting to create their own digital distribution methods. But all feel if they cooperate and create a joint business venture, they have a better chance of succeeding.

The deal has taken some time behind the scenes because accommodating a number of devices and form factors has proven to be one of many challenges. In addition to the iPhone and Apple's tablet, the publishers are expected to embrace the Amazon Kindle and Research in Motion's BlackBerry line.

"It’s pretty complicated stuff," one source reportedly said. "The really, really hard part is that you’ve got so many different kinds of devices running on different operating systems. And how do you handle that? The consortium provides one point of contact for the consumer. When you come to the main store, you can get the content any way you want."