iPad: Saying Good-bye to My Paper Magazines

I’m working on a plan to eliminate most paper magazines from the household by using my iPad instead. Here’s my first report on Zinio for iPad and my first two digital subscriptions.

I grew up in an era when printed reference material was important. If you didn’t have a paper reference, especially for research, you were stuck. That mentality probably led to my overzealous collections of technical magazines. Of course, today that’s silly. More and more magazines are not only available in digital format, but many of them are developing online archives of every issue ever printed. Keeping paper copies around the house just leads to clutter. Good riddance.


Apple iPad

So I’ve started a pilot project to eliminate most of my paper magazine subscriptions and convert to digital format on the iPad. Of course, this has been possible previously on the Mac in some cases, but the size and portability of the iPad creates a critical psychological mass that allows one to take such a project more seriously.

My first two subscriptions have been on Zinio: Car & Driver and Macworld. Twelve issues of Macworld are priced at US$19.97, and 12 issues of Car & Driver are US$8.00 — a considerable bargain. It’s even more of a bargain because C&D includes videos.


My first concern, and likely yours as well, is the readability and general handiness of the iPad and its magazine pages compared to the paper counterpart. There are several factors here. First, one has to get past the comfortable, entrenched habit of paper in hand and turning physical pages. That’s a heavy psychological burden in terms of preference and familiarity. I soon got over that. Next is the lighting. One has to adapt to adjusting the iPad to eliminate reflections in the same way one adjusts a paper magazine for good lighting. All in all, I didn’t find any of these factors to be a problem. Nor is the fact that the page size on the iPad is slightly smaller than most magazines bothersome.


Oct 2010 Macworld

The one consideration that’s hard to ignore is being outdoors. But I think this is a red herring. If I were going to sit by the pool or on the beach, I’d likely not take my expensive iPad that I know could be damaged by sand, water and sun. I’d probably just grab a book. Most of my magazine reading is done indoors, at home. I suspect the same is true for most readers, a certain Kindle TV ad notwithstanding.

I’ve read an entire Robert B. Parker novel (Jesse Stone, Split Image) on the iPad, and that helped me make great strides being comfortable with the device.  Because of that experience, I think the reaction to magazines may be just a matter of time spent for most iPad users. That is, your first reaction to thumbing through a magazine could well be conditioned by previous time spent reading. In my case, that’s consisted of a lot of news and web browsing — so new iPad users should take note. Also, I’ve learned to change the screen brightness to suit me rather than just be stuck with a fixed level. Images and, admittedly, ads, seem to come to life in a properly backlit display, but I find it curious that iBook has an immediate, upfront control of brightness while magazine apps seem to neglect that consideration.


Oct 2010 Car and Driver

I’ve chosen a couple of side-by-side comparisons here with a simple goal in mind. I wanted to show a combination of photos, tables, and fine print. In the two photos above, even though I didn’t work on a highly polished comparison photo, you can get somewhat of a feel for the two different presentations. The HDR feature on my iPhone 4 served me well to bring out the best of both, but don’t take the images too seriously. Any backlit image is going to look brighter and crisper than a printed page. Further, I suspect the presentation above is rendered even more dubious by the limits of digital photography. Overall, I think people who’ve spent a lot of time with computer displays and have done a lot of reading on the iPad will find the iPad acceptable, if not preferable while those who are new to the iPad may be a bit startled and annoyed by the back lighting.

Even when the print is just a little too small to read comfortably on the iPad, I find it quick and easy to do a two-finger expansion. That’s something you can’t do with a paper magazine — unless you keep a magnifying glass handy. In general, the visual things we can and will be able to do will eventually make printing on paper obsolete.

That brings up the issue of non-iPad implementations. There will always be publishers who elect to go for the widest possible audience and that means minimal or no effort to support the features of one particular platform. For example, we expect to be able to swipe, pinch, see a film-strip with thumbnails in the TOC, click on videos and maybe even see interactive ads on the iPod, but in some implementations, some of those features will be lacking. No standards for this are in sight.

I know that lots of people will react differently to the ergonomics of of iPad magazine subscriptions, but my feeling is that the longer one works on it, the more one wonders what all the fuss was about at first.


As a magazine reader product, Zinio has been around for a long time. I remember reading some older Mac-centric magazines, on the Mac, years ago. But it never clicked with me because I was tethered to the Mac. Magazines, by definition, are mobile entities.

Zinio works like iBooks on the iPad. You have a library and a store. Don’t be fooled by the “featured” page; that shows a lot of popular magazines, but it doesn’t reflect all the magazines available. You’ll need to register in order to see all the titles available in the “Shop” section. One nice thing is that you don’t have to supply a credit card number until the actual purchase. And you’ll stay logged on, like Netflix, until you formally log off.


Zinio Home (Select month along left edge)


One of the opportunities to do something cool, compared to print, is the addition of embedded video. For example, in the Car & Driver page I selected above, two of the photos have “play” arrows, and I was able to watch the BMW M3 being put through its paces on the track. As far as I’m concerned, that alone is enough to relegate my paper subscriptions to the dust bins of the past. That C&D can provide this kind of value added for $8 for 12 issues sets a standard for everyone else.


C&D embedded video

When you sign up for a Zinio account, even before you buy any subscriptions, a few complimentary issues will be dropped into your library. Press “Edit” on the upper left, and you’ll be able to delete any issue you don’t want. In my case, however, I had a hard time getting Zinio to respond to my touching of the “x” button. It took several tries before the app responded. Other than that, I didn’t have any trouble with the Zinio app.

The Zinio Help function (?-mark at the top of your library) is worth reviewing and points out that content is fully downloaded via Wi-Fi. Once downloaded, you can read it anywhere. You also have the option to sync your content in iTunes or, for faster backups, skip the sync. That’s controlled in the settings (gear icon at the top).

The Long Term

One of the things that concerns me, just a little, is the long term viability of Zinio. I suspect that as the iPad really takes off in 2011, with perhaps new versions, new standards for delivery will emerge.


Publisher Sample of Sky & Telescope in Safari 

Right now, we have independent apps with in-app purchases like Wired. Then there’s Zinio with its own internal format. Some publications, like Sky & Telescope, use the eBook format and can be read with the Kindle or Kindle reader. Finally, there’s been talk about Apple working to establish a general framework of its own. There may be others I haven’t heard of yet. That leads, as I said above, to multiple magazine containers with different logins plus different storage formats, presentations and features.

As a result, it’s likely that in the short term, our magazine subscriptions will be spread out amongst several different apps and formats. In fact, whether there will ever be a standardized magazine container going forward is doubtful. If anything, I expect the number of competitors to increase — given our current technical capabilities, a host of new tablet competitors and the needs and preferences of the publishers. I don’t think Apple alone can solve that problem.

Finally, there’s the issue of pricing. For example, in the Kindle magazine store, Asimov’s Science Fiction wants nearly US$36.00 per year while Car and Driver wants a mere US$8.00 per year. Perhaps C&Ds considerable automotive advertising revenue allows them to subsidize a more modest digital price. Even so, many customers have a justifiably hard time figuring out where the publisher is coming from when prices are set. On the other hand, customers sometimes have preconceptions that aren’t related to the business reality of the publisher. Another continuing frustration is that customers get upset when they’ve paid for a paper subscription and then get hit for an additional fee for the digital version — which despite considerable production costs — many believe should be low cost or free. All this may never settle out.

So far, we have different hardware platforms, different software containers, different file formats, different UI feature sets and different pricing schemes. I’m planning to experiment and take it slow as I see how the marketplace develops.

By the way, coming full circle, it’s still important for paper copies to be printed for libraries. We don’t want to get to the point in our society where a global electronic disaster could wipe out our history. iPads come and go, but libraries are still good places to archive durable transcripts of our ongoing civilization in a form that only requires a human hand and eye to read. Perhaps, when digging through the rubble 500 years from now.