iPad: Saying Good-bye to My Paper Magazines

| Analysis

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.

Popular TMO Stories



many customers have a justifiably hard time figuring out where the publisher is coming from when prices are set.

I saw an article about 6 months ago where a particular periodical (I don’t remember which one, just that it was a familiar newsstand publication) was going to charge one price for the paper edition, double that for the paper plus electronic, no option for electronic only, and the electronic was just a PDF of the magazine so there was no extra content.


It will be a few years until both customers AND publishers come to understand this new market and what is a ‘normal’ price for a digital publication and what is expected of an electronic version. Video for example.


“Finally, there?s the issue of pricing.”
Not finally. First, middle and last.
I pay 26 cents for a paper issue of Time magazine. Why would I pay more for an iPad version?
With zero printing and mailing costs, I would expect to pay less than 20 cents for the electronic version.

Lee Dronick

I pay 26 cents for a paper issue of Time magazine. Why would I pay more for an iPad version?

My Time Magazine subscription is expiring soon and they are offering me 36? per issue. Of course they are throwing in a free travel bag, which like most offerings from Time probably isn’t of great quality. Anyway, their print edition is getting thin and I am having a hard time deciding on wether I want to continue the subscription or not. News is easy to get online and even the feature articles in the print editions can be found on line. As a touchy-feely, as well as visual, type of person I do like holding a book or magazine in my hands. However, as John points out you can zoom text on an iPad easier than using magnifying glass to read print.

My wife was all in a lather to get an iPad, but opted for a new MacBook Pro because she needed it for school. If a new model iPad comes out before Christmas then that may solve a gift problem.


I?m working on a plan to eliminate most paper magazines from the household

I did that over 5 years ago. Phased out all of my Science News, MacAddict, MacWeek, Sky&Telescope;, etc. etc. subscriptions. All of the content was online. For the same reason I don’t subscribe to a newspaper either. I can get more current information on line without having to wait for a dead tree to land in my mailbox.

This may get me to think about subscribing to a few things again. There are two things I want though. The same or less cost than the print version with integrated digital only content like QuicktimeVR views of things I can rotate and zoom and video. (Your Car&Driver; example above is exactly what I’m talking about.) Also a second gen iPad with cameras.

With those two things I think I may jump in.

One question:
Can you purchase single issues? I may not want to subscribe to Car&Driver; but there will be particular issues I want. Scientific American is very much like that. When I subscribed I would devour one out of four issues and just skim the rest because there was little of interest.


My iPad prompted me to buy a new membership to National Geographic via Zinio, after a 15 year hiatus. They’ve done a great job with their interactive edition: access to more pictures, interactive maps and video content.

But more importantly, they haven’t gone overboard with bells and whistles as others have. It’s still the same magazine and it’s still focused on content rather than form. A year’s worth will weigh a lot less though wink

I agree with you about the format issue. I was surprised when Apple first announced iBooks that they weren’t including magazines in a similar offering. The iPad is such a natural fit for this type of content (RSS formatting apps like Flipboard and Times are a testament to that). The latest rumours of a general framework seem like a no-brainer (especially in the face of atrocities like Adobe’s solution) and the landscape is likely to change quite a bit in the coming years/months.


Based on my experience with the iPad over the past three months, I think we are well on the way to doing away with paper, at least for the purpose of reading newspapers and magazines at home.  The screen of the iPad is just large for this, though an extra inch might help. 

There will still be room for paper away from home, but I think that within 10 years paper will be rare at home.

At age 59, I am not by any means a typical early adopter or geek. I just find it much easier to read newspapers and magazines on a tablet.


“Perhaps, when digging through the rubble 500 years from now.”

Good article, but please spare us the apocalyptism (did I just coin a word?) It’s SO negativist and SO 1960s.

-child of the 60s


Believe me.
Anything being built now will be rubble in 500 years.

-geologist of the ‘70s


Go check out the Pantheon in Rome? I think he meant the rubble of our entire civilization, not just of our current objects. Ride, four horsemen, ride? Not!


There are always lots of opinions, comments or critics saying that Radios would soon be replaced by the time TV emerged into the market.  It never happened. 

Will newspaper or print magazine be gone and replaced by iPad or Kindle?  Lots of people say they still like that kind of “touchy feely” of the print edition, and it’s typical that they have that type of reaction. There is no doubt the iPad does more than just reading, and also you can zoom in / zoom out / find definition of any word / .... more, I think the print edition “might” still has its way on the market, but it will absolutely be very limited market.  Those publishers will definitely find ways to expand the sources for profit.  They will have “app for iPad” or things like that to try to stay in the market….!!


I find it curious that iBook has an immediate, upfront control of brightness while magazine apps seem to neglect that consideration.

Apple appears to be using private APIs to control the iPad’s hardware brightness directly from the iBooks app. This is not a control that’s available to app developers, according to Marco Arment (Instapaper). Arment uses a translucent overlay along with a brightness slider in Instapaper to mimic changing the brightness of the screen, but you’ll notice as you do this that the status bar at the top of your iPad doesn’t dim along with the slider. The Kindle app apparently uses the same trick. Arment wrote about this back in April.

It also appears that iOS 4.2 on iPad will contain a brightness slider in alongside the iPod/background audio controls in the app switching tray that appears when you double-click the home button. This seems to be a true hardware brightness slider just like the one in iBooks and the Settings app. This might make the point moot, though I hope Apple eventually allows developers access to that brightness control as many users will never discover or use the multitasking tray or its slide-to-the-left set of system controls.

Christopher Mirabile

I have done the same thing.  It has been a pain to get the publishers to refund the remainder of my print subscriptions, but the checks have been dribbling in, so I am getting there.  My main two issues now are (1) lack of availability of a few key titles (including the Week, Fast Company, etc.) (2) the fact that too many mags are starting to come out with stand-alone apps leaving me with too many places to check for content.  This is a huge surprise for me - when the iPad first came out, I assumed like everybody else, that I’d prefer fancy stand-alone multimedia apps, but, in fact, the opposite is true.  I strongly prefer the simple recreation of the paper mag that Zinio delivers.  It is fast, easy, simple, linear, and doesn’t have a bunch of crap to get in the way.  And best of all, you can easily “tear out” an article you want to keep by just screen capturing the page.  So here’s hoping Zinio gets more mainstream titles….


And best of all, you can easily ?tear out? an article you want to keep by just screen capturing the page.?

That is a huge feature I hadn’t seen mentioned anywhere else.

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account