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Summary:

Digital magazines aren’t new, but the latest version of Zinio is. This new Adobe AIR application lets you read magazines on Windows, Mac or Linux computers and the experience is immersive. With dynamic content, live web links and interactive media, this is the future of magazines.

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The year was 2005 and I was reading a magazine — on a Microsoft Windows Tablet PC. The experience was a precursor to what I anticipate from Apple’s iPad. It was an enjoyable and portable experience. The software I used back then was Zinio Reader and a new beta version of the software is now available in an Adobe AIR application — it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux computers.

All of the features from prior versions are in the new Zinio Reader 4: page bookmarks, clips of favorites, sharing content with friends, offline reading and more. I grabbed a sample magazine — the recent issue of iPhone Life — and totally enjoyed the experience. Visually, the digital magazine content is stunning and the zooming works great — text re-renders properly and quickly after a zoom. Page turns can show as sliding content or as an actual, physical page flip. Web links are active too. Tapping one opens up your computer’s default web browser instantly. And although I don’t pay much notice to advertisements, Zinio says these can be dynamic and interactive.

Zinio plans to offer an iPad application next month and I anticipate the experience to be very similar. In fact, if you want a pre-cursor, give the new Zinio Reader 4 app a download to get a feel for what to expect. And between now and April 2, you can download a free digital copy of National Geographic’s Water issue. For some reason it’s not appearing for me in the new Reader 4 app, but I can open it directly from my browser and use Zinio’s Flash-based reader. Hopefully, that’s a beta glitch that gets addressed soon because the interaction on this magazine issue had me hooked in five seconds. As soon as I saw water actually flowing on the cover, I was drowning myself in the content.

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

Irrational Exuberance Over E-Books?

  1. Was getting a lot of lockups (hard reset was always needed) in W7 64 due to Zinio R3. It did not help to run exe files for Zinio as Vist SP2.

    So even if it is a beta build, R4 was installed.

    Thanks for the tip.

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  2. Hi Kevin,

    I’m afraid I’m not as enthusiastic as you about Zinio’s “National Geographic.” I want much more control. I don’t want an experience where the digital version is almost the same as the paper version — with a little multimedia thrown in.

    I want to change the typeface and type size. I want to change the colors of the text and background. If the captions are too small, I want to increase them across the entire magazine.

    If the magazine is in two columns, I might want one. If the text is justified, I might want ragged right. I want to click on a photo and see it fill the entire screen.

    I want to click and see only text, only audio, only video — or a mixture of whatever I want. If I’m sitting down with tablet, perhaps I don’t want to turn pages — maybe I just want to scroll down the page, which is typically quicker.

    I wrote about this in one of my weekly InternetEvolution.com columns:

    http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=526&doc_id=189002&

    Basically, today’s digital publications are too much like paper. Computers offer tremendous flexibility to enhance the reading experience, but publications are too mired in the past.

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    1. Alan, I totally get what you’re saying and I think we’re on the way there… but we’re not there yet. I think some of the problem stems from the methods and standards used by content creators and some of it due to the reader applications still maturing. Let’s see what Zinio and others bring to the iPad — more control or more of the same. ;)

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    2. Alan, I agree with you for e-books or other largely text works, but I’m not sure I do for digital magazines. Page layout for magazines is part of the art of the publication, and I don’t think publishers will concede as much control as you wish.

      I do think digital magazines must have simple user control such as overall zooming to provide a comfortable experience, but I’m not sure they should allow the user to change the overall page layout.

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  3. Hi Kevin, James,

    Thanks for your quick replies!

    James, in my column that I cited, I noted that publishers spend lots of time and money creating a brand identity and a specific look. And I understand them not wanting to let others change the look.

    But I ponder what digital publications should be like. As someone who has about 3,000 paper books (yes, I’ve read almost all of them), I believe the future of publications is (1) multimedia, (2) Internet access and (3) user control.

    I also believe the entire concept of a publication will change. Most publications without those three components will — eventually — be considered relics. Publishers will have to learn that the digital medium must allow user control.

    If “National Geographic” or “Wired” or whatever sends me their publication in their “default” layout mode, that’s fine.

    But if “Wired” uses a type size that’s so small that it’s more suitable for captions (as it sometimes does), I want to be able to change it.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, and digital publications won’t allow extensive user control for a long, long time. But I hope I’m not — because that doesn’t take advantage of digital’s capabilities, which enhance the user experience.

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  4. some articles in Saveur magazine on the zinio Ipad app have a “text mode” which only shows the text and allows you to change font sizes.

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