Digging Deeper Into Digital Magazines

I love to watch chaos and wrote a piece about digital magazines taking up too much iPad storage. After watching Wired  eat up about half a GB per issue, I started to do a bit of digging and realized that I had just scratched the surface on the state of Digital Magazines. 

How Bloated Are You?

Tom Tegart, the publisher of a free iPad magazine title Overnight Buses Travel Magazine, an absolutely gorgeous effort that I advise you to check out, wrote that the obscene size of Wired was due to the publishers taking the easy way out and using PNG and .PDF files, both of which are space hogs, and then adding interactivity which tips the scales even more.

According to Tom, the way to go was by using HTML5 and JPEG files to build a magazine. His magazine comes in at 42.8MB and is optimized for the retina display of the new iPad. It has no interaction since he didn’t have any to insert, and, honestly, doesn’t need any.

Tom uses the Baker Framework which optimizes size. A number of magazines, such as The Canny Outlaw weighing in at a svelte 21.7MB, use Baker. Tom told me that his next issue will feature a one minute movie that compresses down to just 10MB. He maintains that if everything but text were stripped out of an issue of Wired, it would still be over 100MB in size, whereas using webpage technology, the size would hardly break 1MB.

The Zinio App

Digging In The Dirt

Digging deeper, I found that size wasn’t the only issue, and I had the pleasure of typing with and talking to Jeanniey Mullen, the Global Executive Vice President of Zinio, who gave me a wider perspective on the market. Zinio has been publishing magazines on computers for almost a dozen years. I opened an account in 2005, long before the iPhone or iPad.

Zinio is the only publisher that lets you read a magazine on anything you have, including Macs, PCs, iPhones and other smartphones, as well as the iPad and other tablets. the company publishes more than 5,500 magazines worldwide, and owns the vast majority of the market.

You won’t find any Zinio publications in Apple’s Newsstand app, since Apple designed its app to handle one title at a time. Zinio has its own app where you can explore all of its magazines. Each week ten of the most popular stories in a dozen categories throughout the entire catalog are curated and made available in the Zinio app for free. Any magazine can be previewed where you can read a random three pages to get a feel for the content. 


Zinio has, in a way, solved the problem of not knowing which issue contains a particular article if it’s archived and taken off your device. Just like the Newsstand, all issues are kept in the cloud and can be archived and downloaded time and time again, but how do you know which issue has that special review that you really need right now?

The problem is solved by a search engine, which only is available on Macs or PCs and not in the iOS app. Type in a keyword and the issue and page numbers are found. In my testing, this works like a charm, and goes a long way to solving the space problem of having to keep too many issues on your device for reference. 

The search works whether or not you subscribe to the magazine and serves as a sales tool since an amazing 85% of subscribers to any particular title have never bought a print copy of the same title. 

Each month 40 percent of Zinio’s customers read something on all three available platforms — computers, tablets and phones. That surprised me since I could never get comfortable reading magazines on a Mac and think that the iPad is the perfect device for magazine consumption. Many agree since somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of the Zinio magazines are read on tablets of one sort of another with 10 percent read on iPhones and other smartphones.

The exception is in Asia where the majority of smartphones have larger screens than the iPhone. The Asian market reads more magazines on such phones. To make it easier to read on smartphones, each magazine has a “text” feature, which presents the story in text similar to Safari’s “Reader” option. You can also bookmark pages of any title for later retrieval. 


Zinio is technically agnostic when it comes to what’s going on behind the curtain. They are only concerned that it run on every device that it can be subscribed from. Zinio will alert titles that are for the iPad or iPhone using Flash and offer an alternative, but that’s about it. They’ll publish it any way it’s delivered, as long as it works. So what about space considerations?


Their demographics tell them the following about age groups and interaction:

  Readers in their 20s-mid 30s want innovation and cool features

  Readers in the later 30s and 40s want intelligent interaction that adds value to the copy.

  Readers in their 60s and above want no interaction and like their magazines as they always were. 


In the past year digital prices have increased in 48% of their publications. This is the chaos of the market and this will have to shake out over the next few years. Isn’t it odd that buying Macworld online costs US$23.88 or $1.99 an issue while a print subscription can be gotten for $19.95 or $1.65 an issue? Isn’t it odd that Wired (not a Zinio publication) gives free digital subscriptions for print subscribers? Yeah, it’s very odd, and getting odder.

Every nine months there is a significant shift in the market and no one knows where it will end up. But the schizophrenic economic pendulum that’s been out of control will eventually slow and settle. Your guess is as good as mine, or Jeanniey Mullen’s for that matter, where it will end up, but the wide range of options is unsupportable in the long run.



The market is going through sort of a gold-rush mentality where just about anything will be tried and the results tabulated. The newest innovation just rolled by Zinio and tested in Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Cosmopolitan is online buying through the magazine. Zinio partnered with ShopAdvisor to offer a number of new services.

On many pages showing anything from shoes to tires, a “shop” button will appear and when tapped or clicked, information about the product on the page will appear offering the ability to put it on a watch list, to alert you when it gets to a certain price, show pricing history, or offer you the ability to buy right there and then.

In two fashion accessories I checked, buying one took you to Amazon.com and the other took you to Saks Fifth Avenue  where you could buy directly from their pages while not having to pay Apple it’s 30 percent take, and then easily return to the page you magazine page where you found the item.

ShopAdvisor in Marie Claire

Will it work? Since it only rolled out a few days ago, no one knows, but if it does, it’s a new profit center. If it doesn’t, it gets paved over and something new is tried. This is a heady time for innovation in the digital magazine market. No one knows what cost structure, economic model, back-end technology, size differential, amount of interactivity, or amount of customer adoption the market will settle upon. And that’s why it’s so much fun to watch this adolescent market twist and turn. 

Have I told you how much I like chaos?