The Problem with Magazines and The iPad

| Editorial

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.

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I’m glad you brought this up, as have avoided digital magazines for most of the reasons you give here, and no, I don’t have a solution.

Another reason I just don’t grok iPad magazines is related to the archiving issue you raised, and that’s portability. I expect Apple will make it possible to read Newsstand subscriptions on a Mac and not just iOS, but when I buy digital goods I like to be able to be in a standard format and DRM free, so I can take them with me to any capable device, and be reasonably sure that future devices I own will still have access to them.

This gets especially dicey the more “interactive” magazines get. When a magazine is essentially an “app” and has its own “interface” its on the fast track to the dustbin of history. Apple has, on occasion, made heroic efforts to preserve backward compatibility, but eventually, as was the case with Lion abandoning Rosetta, they stop supporting old software. How long till the watershed iOS release where backwards compatibility with early Newsstand magazines is dropped? “Porting an app” is a lot more work than “converting a document.”


Maybe they could fashion a local iCloud type of thing using a time machine.
Still a delay but quicker compared to the internet.


@ilikeimac: +1. A 128GB iPad is needed, but Wired needs to work on having their eMag weigh less.

@Lwio: An iCloud backup of mags will be great, but how will it be different than downloading the mag from the publisher’s server; it will take the same amount of time and that’s something you can do already.

I’ve tried to solve this problem by having a 64GB iPhone and a 64GB iPad. All my music is stored locally in the iPhone (most of it) and all my videos and mags are in the iPad. I carry both of them most of the time.


@Lwio: An iCloud backup of mags will be great, but how will it be different than downloading the mag from the publisher?s server; it will take the same amount of time and that?s something you can do already.

I meant a local iCloud, ie a time machine that’s on wifi for a lot of people that would be much quicker than internet.


I like digital magazines that are “mere PDFs”; unfortunately, the only one to which I currently subscribe that’s available in that format is Sky & Telescope.  The reason is the one identified by ilikeimac:  I can have reasonable confidence that I will be able to read PDFs in the telepathic user interface of 2030, while magazines that depend on an app (e.g., Macworld in Zinio) or that are themselves apps cannot be counted on to remain readable for anywhere near that long.

Besides, sometimes an app-like digital magazine is annoyingly “interactive for the sake of being interactive.”  For example, TIME has a weekly feature called Briefing that includes photos of half a dozen newsmakers along with a quote from each; I can apprehend this at a glance in print form.  The last time I looked at the TIME app, though, it forced you to tap each photo to bring up that person’s quote, which added nothing of value to the experience.  (Actually, I like keeping the occasional TIME magazine, alongside all my Sky & Telescope issues—I’m looking forward to receiving the one that will probably have the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) landing on the cover this week—so I’d be sticking with paper anyway in the absence of a “mere PDF” version.)

Thomas Tegart

Coding a native app or making a hybrid app instead of using PDF’s would cut down on the file size. We publish a travel magazine on the iPad using a free, open source hybrid app backend called Baker. Our first issue was only 45MB. A lot of people are designing some really great stuff with the Baker framework, which you can check out here:

I think you won’t see the large file sizes last as the software improves. Right now companies are just reusing print content, but in the future I think you’ll see software that takes that print content and makes it interactive without the giant file sizes.


An issue I have with digital magazines is when the magazine does not come in a downloadable file, and where you lose access to back issues when a subscription lapses.

There is a motion picture industry publication that I have subscribed to on and off since its first issue about twenty years ago. I have all 129 back issues on one 48” wide bookcase shelf.

The magazine has a digital version in a restricted PDF format that is only viewable online and back issues cannot be read if your subscription lapses. You can subscribe to just the digital version, but IMO the savings is not even close to being able make up for this rather onerous limitation.

Also, there are no extra features to the digital edition. No interactivity, video, etc.


This is an issue which can really only be solved with a cloud based service. As mentioned above as developments in publishing move forward file sizes will become smaller across the board and compression will allow for faster distribution. There will always be times when a web connection is not available but if you choose to store publications in the cloud you can also store some publications on the device. I do not see why the author says ?I don?t have any expectations of keeping versions in iCloud?  some publications may already be viewed on-line without any download and they are connected via an archive for more info on the 3D Issue Archive check out this video

David Winograd

I do not see why the author says ?I don?t have any expectations of keeping versions in iCloud?

The reason is that I can’t always be connected, and the transfer rate depends upon the bandwidth of a location.

Like books, I want immediate access regardless of where I am. I feel that bandying around the cloud has become a panacea for anything and everything, but that’s just not the case.

Some things need to be resident and all we can hope to do is reduce file sizes and increase storage.

Scott Johnson

Our company, Qmags ( native iPad replicas from the PDF files that are sent to the printer.  The publisher can have us add multimedia to their iPad issues.

There?s recent information that shows a consumer preference for replica iPad magazine versions:

Duncan Edwards, the CEO of Hearst Magazines International, said at a recent conference ?People thought we?d reimagine the magazines to take advantage of the technology behind the device, but consumers prefer this replica version.?

And, from the UK, comes the following:


Funny, the transient nature of interactive iPad pubs is exactly why I like reading them that way. There are very few publications that make me want to keep an immediate archive. Generally, when I read a publication, I’m done with it.

While most of the iPad pubs I read right now have both print and iPad versions, I find that if I get the iPad pub before the printed one, the paper version immediately hits the round file. The only one I enjoy reading both versions of is Wired, in part because I get both versions at approximately the same time. And because both are so well executed, they make an interesting study in how to do both print and digital publications well.

There was a time when I thought St. Peter would call me home after a big car crash, but then realized it was far more likely that I would go up in a paper fire. If nothing else, the transition to digital publications reduces the chance that the pack rat in me will be going up in flames ...

I’m studying how digital magazines are put together, in part because I see it as the future of publishing. Really. And as a publishing consultant and trainer, I’d like to be ahead of the curve. But I see that future really coming into play over the next 5-10 years and not the next 1 to 2 of them. Truthfully, I see a future of serving them up by tablet-targeted HTML5/CSS3 web sites as the most efficient and cost effective way to go.


@Scott Johnson: since most people are not technically inclined, they are not aware the true functionality the iPad can bring to a magazine. Having read books on the Kindle and other eBook readers, they are happy to see just a plain PDF version that has no interactivity.

Nat’l Geographic has a hybrid of interactive elements as well as iPad replica PDFs, and I think that is an adequate combo for now. As users become more comfortable and aware of things an iPad can do, they’ll demand more.

Mr. Hearst saying that customers love replica versions of magazines is like Mr. de la Vega of AT&T saying that users love data caps. And I wonder who commissioned, conducted and/or paid for the study you linked to.

David Winograd

Hearst saying that consumers like the way Hearst wants it and not what anyone I’ve talked to wants is absurd.

The replica version is dead or should be. Creativity is what built all media and magazines should be no different. Wired is doing it creatively and people like it so much that often the paper copy goes into the circular file.

I’m sure that buggy whip companies really like buggy whips.

Did anyone happen to notice that the study cited on the CPL page that says that users like .PDF replicas is from a company that makes .PDF replicas?

I did.


@David: LOL. That’s what I’m sayin’! About Hearst.


HTML5 based apps (instead of baking in PDF/PNGs) might be the solution, as HTML is much smaller (plus you can reuse that on your website).
So one way is coding it yourself, e.g. the Baker framework. Or do it directly out of InDesign using Pressrun.


I’m not to sure about the file types & tech, but I certainly know how hard it is to juggle mags on my iPad.  I would like the option of reading a mag online, sans download (with the obvious limitation of having to be online).  Better yet, use a media server to store the content on my desktop & just use a reader app to access it.

Tyler Jenne

I just noticed that I let a subscription lapse and now I have no access to past issues, and I have not even read half of them.
I think I may just go to print as well or look for combo deals. Unbelievable.

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