The Problem with Magazines and The iPad

I’ve wanted a 128 GB iPad since the day I bought my first one over two years ago. I bought the 64 GB version, but I couldn’t get enough music on the darned thing. Since then iCloud and iTunes Match has just about solved my music problem, but I’ve run into another problem that iCloud can’t solve—magazines.

Newsstand on the iPad

When the Newsstand app hit, I quickly found that it was just about useless on the small screen of the iPhone, but the iPad provided a perfect venue for reading magazines. The retina screen of the new iPad often shows more vivid graphics than the print version of the same thing. 

I really don’t like throwing away magazines. I’m used to keeping years of Mac and Audio oriented mags. I’ve subscribed to Wired since January 1993 and rarely toss out an issue. I like to keep Mac magazines around for reference. But I quickly found that this isn’t possible on an iPad since the mags are kept on the device and take up storage. The more interactive the issue, the more storage it takes, and I’ve run out of storage often trying to keep magazines around. 

The reprint of the first issue of Wired weighed in at well over a gigabyte. Most other issues are at least half a GB. From my experience, Wired makes the best use of interaction of any mag I’ve seen, which brings both vibrancy and intimacy and allows the publishers to do things they just can’t do in print.

A good example was a few months ago when Stephen King’s new book 11/22/63 was due for publication. Wired ran a one page interview with Mr. King, but in the digital version there was a link to an embedded audio continuation of the interview that ran around ten minutes. That impressed me, but the download was large.

Wired digitized and released its initial issue that is highly annotated giving context and perspective on just what they were trying to accomplish in 1993. That was the year of the PowerBook introduction. I bought my PowerBook 140 and was amazed. This exceedingly large download is something I’d like to keep around but doing so won’t be easy, since trying to download a bunch of issues ran my new 64 GB iPad out of storage.

It’s true that some magazines are disposable, like Entertainment Weekly which gets old very quickly. I’m happy enough to keep a month of this one, and I’m really not a pack rat. I get Wired and EW free with my print subscription, so Apple isn’t making anything on it and I don’t have any expectations of keeping versions in iCloud. It would be very nice to be able to have mags for which Apple is getting its 30% kept in iCloud for free as Apple does with apps, but I don’t think magazines would transfer quickly enough to make reading them a pleasant experience. 

The whole digital magazine market is pretty confusing at present. Some are free with a print version and others like Macworld cost more for the digital version than the print version on a subscription. This marketing makes no sense. I would think that there is some savings in not having to physically print and mail a copy.

I’ve watched the digital magazine market progress from mere .pdf files — which some still are — to immersive interactive supersets of print versions. The better ones will take more and more storage; there’s just no way around it. 

Archiving and re-downloading an issue as a matter of course is a terrible solution. It sounds okay, but in practice it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I have my iPad set to go dark after five minutes, which is less time than it takes to download most magazines. So the first thing I have to do change the settings, go back to Newsstand, find the issue, hit the download button and wait. That’s fairly minor but what’s not is that there’s no way of knowing which issue has the article I want to read. So I have to download at least a few. Now compare the time that takes to picking up a few physical issues and flipping. The flipping wins every time.

So storage is a valid issue and I’m not even talking about complex games and interactive textbooks, and retina display apps, which can be huge and take quite a long time to download.  I’d be very happy to pay an extra hundred dollars for a 128 GB iPad next time around, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Has anyone found a decent way to manage their digital magazines, or gone totally digital, and are happy with the result? I’d love to hear about it.