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Apple and Time Inc., have inked a pact that allows subscribers of hard-copy rags published by the largest magazine flogger in the US to freely download digital copies of those same issues onto their Cupertinian fondleslabs.

Beginning Monday, subscribers to Time's flagship Sports Illustrated, Time, and Fortune will be able to download copies of current issues for free using those titles' iPad apps, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

Previously, subscribers who wanted digital versions had to pay for them separately – that is, in addition to their subscription fees for hard-copy issues. This limitation was wildly unpopular with readers, who gave the Sports Illustrated, Time, and Fortune iPad apps overwhelmingly negative reviews.

"If you already have a subscription to the magazine you still have to pay – crazy!" wrote one reviewer of the Fortune app, adding "What world do y'all live in?"

That world has become more rational, now that those Time Inc. iPad apps will include the ability for subscibers to verify their subscription status and download magazine content directly onto their iPads – an ability that Time Inc.'s People Magazine iPad app has had since last August.

When the People deal was announced, a "source close to the project who spoke off the record" told Fortune that similar deals would be offered through Time Inc.'s flagship mags within 30 days. It took a bit longer than that, as it turned out.

Between the People announcement and the granting of the same abilities to Sports Illustrated, Time, and Fortune came Apple's initiation of subscription guidelines that require content publishers to sell content only through Apple's in-app purchasing system, and to pay Apple 30 per cent for the privilege of doing so.

The new guidelines don't only apply to magazine and newspaper content – they also apply to music-subscription services, a fact that received quick criticism from music sites such as Rhapsody and Last.fm – and which prompted the co-founder of the latter to somewhat indelicately comment in an IRC chat that "apple just fucked over online music subs for the iphone."

Apple's imposition of subscription guidelines, which don't go into effect until June 30, also remove a content provider's ability to interact directly with its digital subscribers, and thus not obtain their lucrative personal information – a loss that undoubtedly still remains part of the negotiations between Apple and Time Inc.

The current agreement between Apple and Time Inc. to allow the magazine giant's current subscribers to obtain digital content through the iPad apps doesn't solve the digital subscription–only conundrum – that is, no announcement has yet to be made whether users of Time's iPad apps can subscribe to those magazine's within the apps.

Whether Apple and Time Inc. can come to an agreement over such digital-only subscriptions, whether Apple's cut will remain that hefty 30 per cent, and whether Time Inc. will get access to digital-subscriber demographic info still remains to be resolved.

Stay tuned – there are still two months of negotiating time before Apple's new subscription guidelines kick into effect. ®

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