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Summary:

Magazine publishers are lining up to get magazines onto the iPad. It’s almost as if they believe the slate will save the industry from itself. I’m not so sure that regular folks will be in a hurry to read magazines on a gadget, even the iPad.

Zinio thumb

We started hearing rumblings that magazine publishers were looking to get content on the iPad, even before Apple officially admitted there was such a thing. It was almost sad, as it seemed the magazine industry was in such bad shape that it was looking for a savior. On the surface it seems that a hot slate device would be the perfect medium for magazines. What could be a better fit than a device with a nice size color display, interaction via touch; the iPad is tailor-made for digital magazines, right? I’m not so sure.

I’ve been reading magazines on slate devices for years. The Zinio system works well and comes as close to duplicating the glossy magazine reading experience as anything can. The pages are exact duplicates of the print versions, and even the ads are links to online advertisements. It sounds like a match made in heaven, but the reality is it falls a bit short.

I may not be the typical magazine reader, but I rarely read a print mag from cover to cover in the order it is published. There’s something about the ability to jump around, grabbing a stack of pages and skipping a bunch of stuff, that makes for a fun reading experience. That is not easy to do with a digital magazine. Sure you can jump around with a navigation bar of some kind, but finding your way back later is not easy. There’s just no way to fold the corner of the page of a digital magazine to mark your place for later.

Publishers of digital magazines are going to quickly run into a major obstacle — the lack of store checkout counters. Why do stores often have racks of magazines there at the checkout spot? Because people buy issues on impulse when they see the cover. Where are they going to do the same with digital magazines? Where can publishers display the flashy digital magazines so folks will see them when they are likely to buy them? Sure, they’d rather sell subscriptions, but that’s not always the way consumers buy magazines and it’s not likely to change.

Electronic magazine readers are going to be susceptible to one problem that hasn’t occurred to anyone yet. The wet screen syndrome. How many people are going to call the support line after constantly licking the finger to turn the page on the digital magazine? It’s habit, after all, and not likely to change just because the page is now electronic. I see major failures on the horizon due to the wet screens.

OK, I was just having fun with that last bit. But there is a real benefit to paper magazines that can never be had with the digital versions. How many times have you thrown a magazine or two in a bag pocket when heading out the door. I often fold up a magazine and toss it in the bag for reading on the plane when traveling. The digital magazine means I have to bring the reader with me, even if I hadn’t planned to do so. And there’s no way to read a digital magazine on the plane during those times when you must “power off all electronic devices.” Can’t say that about old school paper magazines.

Don’t get me wrong, I love gadgets and I’m usually first in line to use them. I’ve been reading e-books for a decade, long before we had fancy readers. But I’m not your typical consumer; you don’t have to sell me on a new concept where a gadget is involved. You do most folks though, and therein lies the rub.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Can Skiff Be a Lifeboat for Beleaguered Print Media?

  1. I’ll be honest, the last time I read a physical magazine was maybe 10 years ago. The abundance of information coming from the WWW has long replaced the paper junk pile I would amass on my floor every month. Besides, less paper help me be more “green”. ;) You only need to be familiar with browsing to know how to bookmark a page/site and use RSS/twitter to get the latest news and updates.

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  2. I do not know if I am a more “typical” reading consumer than you are, but we are poles apart. I read lots of books and I never got comfortable with ereaders as yet. I like the physical feedback and the read any where abilities of a paper book. I own over 1000 books and I have read most of them multiple times. Some were published in the early 1900′s. I am less than confident that any electronic format I buy into now will still be usable 30 years from now.

    On the other hand, I have felt that ereaders would be great for “disposable” content, e.g. newspapers, weeklies and monthlies. I have recently cut my subscriptions down a bit, to 9 monthlies and a weekly. I see a problem however with the current crop of ereaders- color is important with periodicals and the eInk models do not measure up yet.

    Perhaps the iPad will, but I am interested in the Pixel Qi technology. They make it sound like the best of both worlds.

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  3. Jimmy Dickens Monday, March 1, 2010

    Zinio on the iPad will be pure dynamite. I loved reading magazines on the Q1 when I was offshore. And it only had the 7″ screen.

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  4. Dr. Grace Augustine Monday, March 1, 2010

    Yes, absolutely. The iPad has every opportunity to be THE Magazine reader of choice for the masses. I am sure Steve will make interactive mag reading a joy on Apple’s tablet. I am looking forward to a vast new selection of international mags that aren’t usually on my local store’s shelf. Hopefully Apple’s iPad will actually spawn NEW magazines that you can’t live without, think of it as the web on steroids.

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  5. James – So what’s the difference between this and e-books? I’m not sure I get your point.

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    1. The e-books I read are pure text, which can instantly reformat to fit the little phone screen. I can read on any device this way, magazine pages I can’t.

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  6. ‘save’ may be too strong, but I think there’s definitely a great market there. I understand the restrictions as you’ve outlined them but the convenience of delivery, subscription and the potential interactivity all balance that out. I know the Wired video example was mock-up as much as reality but it was pretty compelling stuff nonetheless.

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  7. There’s just no way to fold the corner
    of the page of a digital magazine to mark
    your place for later.

    Huh? My (now ancient) Sony Reader has a bookmarking feature. It even marks the page visually with a “folded corner”. Why would an iPad magazine viewer not be able to do the same thing?

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  8. “I may not be the typical magazine reader, but I rarely read a print mag from cover to cover in the order it is published.”

    In fact James, that makes you a very typical magazine reader. I’ve worked on print magazines for 15 years and one of the first things you learn is that customers don’t read front-to-back. You’ll usually find that the most-read pages are the opening few, followed closely by the inside-back. That’s why the inside-front and inside-back ad spots usually command the best rates. Next, they usually dip into the centre, where the longer features are (the “features well”, as it’s called) – but that varies depending on the type of magazine.

    With digital ezines like those on Zinio, the pattern of reading is different because the navigation forces you into front-to-back reading. There’s a very strong tail-off from front to back – by the time you reach the “inside back” you’re probably only getting 10% of the page views you were on the “inside-front”.

    In the digital ezine projects I’ve worked on, we’ve attempted to change this by adopting more “web-like” navigation, such as a consistent navbar along the top which lets you jump easily to different sections. It works – to a certain degree – but gives the product a very different feel to a print magazine.

    The point is that if you’re creating a magazine which will be delivered in digital ezine form, you can’t simply stick with the same flatplan and expect it to work. You have to build from the ground up for the medium, because otherwise some of your best content is going to buried.

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  9. The iPad and other similar eReaders may be fine for truly disposable text and photos, but for material that a user may wish to keep or archive (like some do with magazines), devices relying on proprietary formats, online servers and/or limited onboard storage are problematic. A corporate change, a power or hardware failure and your precious archive may be gone forever. Worse, creators of this material may find they have no way of recalling their work.

    In general, the digitization of print and photos leave us in a place where our current history may never be able to be recalled. Recently, my brother and I waded though boxes of family photographs, going back some 100 years – and documents much further back. Meanwhile, I’ve got photos and documents created and saved digitally on medium over the last 15 years, and which I have no way of accessing them anymore – and they may have electronically degraded to the point of irretrievable anyway. As for photography, traditional photos left us with negatives and shots developed but found lacking – yet historians often say that it is these mistake shots that may offer the most useful information – an odd event accidentally caught in the background, a partial shot of someone. Digital photos allow us the ability to instantly toss the mistakes – and with them, our history. And while we can print off our photos, we no real guarantee how long they’ll last.

    It seems unlikely that the iPad and other devices will allow us to rediscover that box of ‘Popular Mechanics’ 50 years later, where we will get to see what their world was like and what the future was meant to hold…

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  10. Many of the technology magazines I grew up with are already gone from newsstands and mailboxes, so I am already viewing their content online. I couldn’t blame them for their decision as a lot of their subjects were old news (or obsolete!) by the time the magazine hit the stands. However, I, too, miss having that physical magazine in my hands, especially when heading to the “reading room”. I just can’t get used to taking my netbook along with me, and I imagine a tablet/pad would be no different.

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