Peter Kafka

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Time Inc. Can’t Wait for Google’s Tablets

It’s become standard issue for media executives to praise the iPad during public events. Today Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes added a twist, by taking time to talk up tablets made by people other than Apple.

Here are Bewkes’s prepared remarks from Time Warner’s earnings call this morning:

In Magazines, Content Everywhere means offering our subscribers a convenient, attractively-priced way of enjoying our titles in print and enhanced electronic versions, across as many devices as possible.

If you’ve downloaded an iPad version of one of our Time Inc. magazines, you know it’s a rich and compelling consumer experience. As you’d expect, we want to offer our customers a range of purchase options including single copy sales, digital subscriptions and combined print and digital subscriptions. For instance, subscribers to People’s print edition can now access the People iPad app for free.

In the near future, we expect to announce deals with other tablet makers that offer our readers flexible ways to access all our electronic titles. We’re confident that as competition increases in that space, every tablet manufacturer will want to give its consumers the same range of choices and the same value.

That’s a classic bit of corporatespeak, since it doesn’t pin Time Warner or its Time Inc. unit down to anything, with anyone. But it’s also easy to translate: “We were psyched about the iPad, but now we’re frustrated over the ongoing subscription standoff. But we bet Google will be very happy to help us out–and maybe that will prompt Apple to come around.”

It’s no secret that Time Inc., like every other magazine publisher, would very much like to work with Google*. Both because they think the new Android tablets will be a hit, and because publishers want leverage when they talk to Steve Jobs.

And it would make sense for Google to go out of its way to give content makers what they want–in this case, the ability to sell magazine subscriptions and keep all of the customer data–because more content makes its tablets more attractive.

We still don’t know what that will look like in practice. For instance, will publishers be able to sell subscriptions “in app,” or will they have to do it via a Google store?

And we also don’t know if the inability to buy digital magazines via subscriptions is what’s really holding back buyers, or if it’s just something they like to complain about on iTunes comments (which, it turns out, publishing executives take very, very seriously–every time I talk to one, they cite the anonymous scribblings).

But now Bewkes says we ought to know in the “near future.” Stay tuned….

*Yes, the content guys want to work with Microsoft on its Windows-flavored tablets and even RIM and its BlackBerry device, too. But Google’s the real focus here.