The End of Zite–The Beginning of News360

Here’s the problem.  Every day on the internet millions of articles are published and some of them are ones I really want to read.  Finding those articles that are perfect for my peculiar interests is like finding Malaysia Flight 370’s black boxes in the middle of the Indian ocean.  Over the years various genius programmers have come up with systems for customized news reading.  The big breakthrough was RSS feeds, and then Google Reader.  But even then, you’d get hundreds or thousands of articles to sift through each day.  What’s really needed is some kind of AI smarts to find less than 50 daily news stories that can be quickly perused.  You want your news feed to only have stories that matter most to you.  After the iPad came out I discovered Zite, and thought I had found news nirvana.  Well, Zite is going, and I’m trying News360.

news360

What the Internet gives, the internet also taketh away.  Time and again I fall in love with technology only to have it taken away.  Remember Lala?  Now I’ll be losing Zite.  To me, Zite is the one app that made tablets great.  Zite was the best Internet newsreader I ever used.  I liked it far better than Google Reader, another technology that was prematurely wrenched from my hands. 

Zite has been bought out by Flipboard.  Now I have nothing against Flipboard, except that I don’t enjoy using it.  Flipboard uses a different metaphor for presenting the news, built around do-it-yourself magazines.  Zite was more like a customized newswire feed.  Zite learned what I was interested in reading, and queued up a bunch of great stories for me to check out.  The more I used it, the smarter Zite got, finding just the right stuff to read.  This is very efficient for reading from the fire hose of news stories available every day on the net.

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Curated News

Like the curated music site Pandora, what voracious news readers want is a reader robot to pre-read the news and decide what we’d like to read.  Zite was my reading robot, but now it’s being killed off.  One of the most popular reading robots is Flipboard, and it has bought Zite in hopes of using its technology to be a better reading robot.

I’ve used Flipboard from time to time but have never been comfortable with it.  If they integrate Zite’s intelligence into Flipboard I might start to like it, but even then I don’t like the visual layout of Flipboard.  For now I’m experimenting with News360 – which Paul N. Shapiro turned me on to – so I don’t need to worry about the Flipboard Zite merger.  Check your app store and try it out – News360.

News360 does one thing that Zite didn’t and I always wanted, it has a website front end so I can use from my desktop.  The controls are nicer on the iOS and Android versions, but the website version is quicker to use, and links me directly to the news story as it appears on the web.  The tablet versions of News360 take a bit more clicking to get to the actual reading.  Zite was the tops for reformatting web pages for easy reading.  News360 is fancier in some ways, with more options, but it takes more clicks to get to the full reading copy.  I haven’t decided if I like News360’s rolling cubes or not.  On the iOS version, it appears the full text can be scrolled on a cube site.

Thumbs Up or Down

There are millions of blogs, magazines, newspaper, journals, websites that publish something new every day.  Even if you find all your favorite publishers and check their site daily, you’d spend way too much time going through stuff you don’t want to read.  And even with a good news reader that zeroes in on your interests, it will find stories you’ll want to look at but still waste your time.  For example, News360 sent me “Einstein’s ‘spooky’ theory may lead to ultra-secure internet.”  The topic interests me, but the piece was short, fluffy and lacking in any real content.  So far, no news collector system I’ve found is perfect, or even close to perfect. 

Reading Robots take training.  And for that, you need ones you can thumbs up and thumbs down on what they give you to read.  However, I can’t thumbs down the article above because it was skimpy, otherwise News360 might stop sending me other articles on quantum mechanics.  You have to apply your intelligence to training your robot.

I’ve just started using News360 and I’m trying to train it not to send me stories I see on the nightly news.  I already waste 30 minutes a day watching the TV news so I don’t want to see those stories again.  I also subscribe to The New York Times – so I don’t want that kind of general news in my news feed.  However, I still want special interest news from The New York Times because I don’t catch everything.  By unchecking Top Stories I got rid of most of the general news.

News360 also found me this morning “The future is coming. 6 ways it will change everything.”  This is still speculation, but it’s the kind I like.  I’d like more substance, but News360 has quickly zeroed in on my interests.

Training a system to be perfect is hard.  I told News360 I’m interested in steampunk, so it found “This $80K Steampunk Inspired Baron Safe-Box…” – that’s interesting, and has visually appealing photos, but ultimately fluff I don’t want to waste my time on.  I’m going to thumbs down the article and hope News360 finds me something more substantial about steampunk – but ultimately I might have to kill that topic.  I’ve already killed the topic Leonardo Da Vinci because News360 kept giving me stuff about a TV show.  Like I said, no system is perfect.

Sometimes New360 makes a mistake that turns out to be wonderful.  I told News360 I wasn’t interested in science fiction movies, but was interested in science fiction books.  This morning it found me  “The Glorious Incoherence of Divergent” at The Atlantic.  Now most everything at The Atlantic is über-readable, but what made this piece a treasure trove is it tied in Philip K. Dick’s books to current movies and YA books.  I’m very into Philip K. Dick, so I forgive News360 giving me a movie review.  It was smart enough to know the article wasn’t just about the movie.

News360 does allow me to block sources when I use the tablet app after I’ve thumbs down something.  This can be dangerous.  Often a news story will come from many sites – it’s been syndicated – so be sure and don’t nix something you like.  But if it’s a single site that you’re sure you don’t want to read from, this is a great feature.  Last night I blocked MTV.com.  I’m just not that young anymore.

I wished News360 had some way of asking about the quality of the content.  A way to mark something that’s too fluffy, or even too verbose.  I also wish it allowed me to diss certain kinds of formatting.  I hate slideshow news – like seeing a headline for the twelve types of dogs that don’t like cats, and then having to click through twelve pages just to see the names of twelve breeds of cat hating dogs.  I think these slideshow stories are a ways to generate ad clicks, which I find fucking annoying as hell.  Just use a goddamn list, please.

Discovering Cool Publishers

One of the most brilliant side-effects of using a reader robot is discovering new publishers.  If you go to a big bookstore and browse the magazine section you might see a couple thousand magazines.  But on the web there are millions.  Discovering new publishers is pretty much serendipity.  If you pay attention to the sources of the articles you like, you’ll discover new sites to read in general.

Theoretically if your reading habits were very specific, you could just bookmark several sites that pertain to your topic and view them daily.  But I’ve yet to find any site that every article they publish is always of interest to me.  So even having my Reader Robot read my favorite magazines is a big help.  I wished sites like News360 had a configuration page that allowed me to list my favorite publications.   Some Reader Robots allow for adding RSS feeds, but News360 doesn’t seem to do that.

News360.com

The best thing about News360 is it’s web site.  Most other magazine styled news aggregators are designed as apps for tablets and smart phones only.  I’m an old fashion sit in the desk chair kind of guy, so I appreciate being able to look at the news on a 27” monitor.  Even though my Nexus 7 has more pixels than my 1080p monitor, I can scan content faster on the big screen.

I’m not used to News360 on my tablets yet, not like I am to Zite, but I’m adapting quickly.  And now that I have a magazine style newsreader for my Chrome browser, I’ll probably be even more addicted to reading the news.

JWH – 3/25/14

Aren’t Television Shows Just Short Stories for People Who Don’t Want to Read?

Many of my bookworm friends tell me they dislike reading short stories.  They claim short stories are too slight, not enough plot and character, to waste their reading time on.  Okay, I can buy that.  But isn’t a 22 minute episode of The Big Bang Theory just a short story?  Isn’t a 47 minute episode of Nashville, merely a novelette?  I’m currently listening to The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James that runs 24 hours.  Most current TV shows have a season of 24 episodes.  So if they were collected as an audiobook, the entire season of 30 and 60 minute shows would still be shorter than one literary novel.  Doesn’t that sound like an anthology of stories?

In other words, don’t people still really love the short story?  Some people like to read, others to listen, but most love to watch!  Don’t most of us crave two or three stories a day?

playhouse-90-2

At one time the short story was very popular in America.  There were hundreds of short story only magazines for sale at newsstands, and some writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald were paid big bucks for a single story.  Even when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, most women’s and men’s magazines would contain at least couple short stories. 

Why did people stop reading short stories?  Why did they fall out of favor?  The obvious answer is they haven’t.  Pulp magazines just mutated into television shows.

How long have humans needed a daily diet of fiction?  Aren’t short stories just oral story telling in mass production?

It seems pretty logical to think folks just switched from reading a thirty minute story to watching one.  It’s also easy to assume that the half hour show is the short story, the hour show the novelette, and the movie is the novella.  But if we look deeper, I think there are some other concepts to consider, most notably the continuing character, the series, and the genre subject focus.

spicy-western-stories

At the beginning of the 20th century most magazines, even pulp magazines, were general purpose magazines for readers of all ages of both sexes.  But as the century progressed publishers created specialty subject magazines, some devoted to single characters, that catered to particularly reading tastes, and demographics.

If you read the latest volume of Best American Short Stories 2013, the annual anthology that collects the best of literary short fiction, you don’t see stories involving a continuing character, a series, or can easily be pigeon-holed into a micro-genre.  Now there are plenty of genre magazines devoted to the short story that do regularly publish this type of story, but their content seldom gets picked for the annual Best American Short Story collection.  For the last 50-75 years, publishers seem to be zeroing in on the continuing character novel, so that most mystery novels, and many science fiction and fantasy books, are now about popular characters involved in a series of adventures.  Doesn’t that sound like television?

doc savage

Television supplanted the pulp magazine, and is now inspiring how many writers write their books.  What happened to the slice of life short story, and the great American novel?  Writers prefer to develop a character and setting they stick to, like those in television shows.  It’s easier to sell, and sells better.

The best literary short stories are tiny slices of life, unique views of humanity.  Most novels from the early history of book publishing were always stand-alone tales, just longer slices of life, with highly detailed unique views.  In the early days of television there were many drama shows that featured a different story and cast of characters each week, the most famous at the time was Playhouse 90, but probably the most famous still somewhat seen via streaming, is The Twilight Zone.

The unique slice of life story was quickly supplanted by the continuing character show.  But that had already started in pulp magazines before the age of television.  I’m curious who the first continuing character was?  Sir John Falstaff appeared in three plays by Shakespeare.  And how many stories did Sherlock Holmes appear in?  Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer appeared in several books, and readers wouldn’t let Louisa May Alcott stop writing about Jo March.  If Louisa was alive and writing today, the March sisters would be a television series.

It seems most people love short stories, about favorite characters, in a setting and subject of particular interest to them.  Other people like stories stretched into novels.  While I love continuing character stories on TV, I avoid them in novels.  But I still love short, unique, slice-of-life stories, either written or dramatized.  I wonder why most people don’t.  I’ve been re-watching old episodes of The Twilight Zone, and some of them are very powerful.

Burgess-Meredith-Time-Enough-at-Last 

However, my brain quickly forgets them, or most of them.  In over fifty years I’ve never forgotten Henry Bemis, or the pig nose people.  If I had only seen one episode of The Big Bang Theory in my life, would I still remember it?  Maybe it’s memorable because I’ve stuck with it for seven years.  Apparently we crave long term relationships with our fictional friends.

Memorable novels are like short intense love affairs we never forget.  By that standard, it seems most people would rather have long term friendships.

JWH – 1/17/14

Next Issue: Can Magazines on Tablet Computers Replace Printed Magazines?

Years ago I gave up subscribing and buying paper magazines in hopes of going paperless.  Oh, I’d break the rules and buy a magazine now and then.  Then recently a guy a work started giving me his magazines after he read them with recommendations of articles to read.  I started discovering that some articles found in magazines are vastly superior to most of the free articles I was finding on the web.  I guess it’s a case of getting what you pay for.  I also discovered for some subjects its much more fun to browse a magazine than the web.

So I started back on a couple of paper magazine and quickly discovered I really don’t like them piling up.  Once you go paperless, it’s hard to go back to paper.  Then I discovered Next Issue.  For $15 a month I got digital access to a library of magazines.  (There’s also a $9.99 version with fewer magazine.)  I quickly rediscovered just how much I love magazines.  The only trouble is they don’t look very good on my iPad 2.

next-issue-sample

That’s not completely true.  Some look much better than others.  For the most part the magazines look like their paper versions – I see all the editorial content and the ads.  Some even have extras, like animations, film clips, and multiple view of photos, so in a sense they are super-magazines.  And some magazines actually reformat their content slightly to take advantage of tablets.  So when you get to an article you page down to read it, rather than page right, for a few pages, and then skipping to page 79 to finish the thing.  The magazines that use this feature tend to format their content in a larger font that’s easy to read without magnification – and that looks best on older tablets like the iPad 2.  Other magazines just give you two views of a static page, one that fits the screen on the tablet, and another brought up by double tapping that is greatly magnified that you slide around with your finger to read.

I’ve been reading for weeks with my old iPad 2, and getting into this new method of magazine reading, all the while thinking about how it could be better.  Mostly I thought about having to buy an iPad Air.

I then borrowed my wife’s Kindle Fire HD with a 7” screen and spent an evening reading my favorite magazines.  The Kindle HD has much better resolution than the iPad 2, a pre-retina display model.  Switching between the two  devices, taught me something about reading magazines on  a tablet, and made me realize that Apple no longer has a lock on tablet computers.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. Resolution matters – the more the better.  Sometimes it’s nicer to read small fonts than to tap and magnify
  2. 7” tablets are much easier to hold and read for longer periods of time
  3. 10” tablets make the photos pop out more, so it’s more fun to look at pictures with a larger screen
  4. If the magazine formats for the tablet, it’s much easier to read on a 7” screen
  5. If the magazine doesn’t format for the tablet, it’s much easier to read on a 10” screen
  6. An aspect ratio of 4:3 is probably better for magazines than 16:10, but not always
  7. I have to use a reading stand with the larger tablet for long periods of reading
  8. A 7” screen is more conducive of carrying around
  9. I’d love to be able to print a whole article, or clip it to Evernote.  The iOS version of Next Issue will let me AirPrint a page at a time.
  10. If I could clip an article to Evernote (or .pdf) I could print it from Evernote
  11. Tablets offer a way for magazines to offer more creative layouts, and even multimedia

Next Issue is far from perfect, but I still feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.  I would be happier if I could find just the right tablet, if I could save articles, and if I could get a few more magazines.  Of course this is dealing with two different issues.  One, can I enjoy reading a magazine exclusively on a tablet and give up print copies?  And two, does Next Issue offer everything I want to read?

Next Issue is a disruptive technology in the same way Netflix was a game changer.  I essentially stopped buying videos after I adapted to Netflix.  Will I give up buying magazines too?  Next Issue has a nice selection of over 125 magazines, but it doesn’t have The Atlantic, Scientific American, Discover, Sky and Telescope, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The New York Review of Books, Linux Journal, and others that I like.

next-issue-sample2

But like I said, that’s two issues when regarding whether can I give up paper magazines for reading magazines on a tablet.  If I had a Kindle Fire HDX, either 7” or 8.9” screen, or an Apple iPad Air or Mini with Retina Display, or a Nexus 7 or 10, or Samsung Note 10.1 2014, I might be able to conclusively answer the first part of the question.  They have the dots per inch resolution that will make tablets sharp enough to read small print.  And they might even make photography stand out more.  However, paper still wins on some factors.

If I can’t clip to Evernote or .pdf, printed magazines win on the “tearing an article out to save” factor.  Also, for “making a photocopy” factor.  They also win on “lending/giving to a friend” factor.  But tablets win on “these magazines are driving me crazy piling up around the house” factor.  Tablets also win on the “where the hell did I put that magazine” factor.  They also win on the “I wish I had that magazine with me” factor because Next issue works from the smartphone and iPod touch.

It’s not hard to see the writing on the wall.  Paper and printing will eventually go away.  Whether magazine library subscriptions like Next Issue will become standard is still to be decided.  Netflix hasn’t killed the DVD buying business, but it’s changed it.  Netflix did kill off the local video store, and I wonder if tablets will do that to newsstands?

JWH – 1/5/14

Rethinking My Kindle Magazine Subscriptions–And Electronic Magazines in General

Years ago I cancelled all my magazine subscriptions to go paperless.  I was finding plenty to read on the Internet for free, and I was experimenting with services like Zinio, which offers electronic magazines.  Then I got a Kindle and iPad and subscribed to Kindle magazines at Amazon.  I liked I could subscribe by the month, and quit any time.  But like paper editions of magazines, I often didn’t keep up, and unread back issues piled up.  So I cancelled my Kindle subscription to The Rolling Stone.  I thought I’d have all my back issues to read when I got some free time, but once you cancel, you can’t download the issues, even for the ones I’ve “bought.”  If you had previously downloaded an issue it stayed on my iPad.  Unfortunately, I discovered there were many I never downloaded, even though their cover image was in my library listing.

See, I was thinking all those back issues were mine to read whenever I wanted, even if I wanted to wait years.  But that wasn’t the case.  I’m not bitching about Amazon’s licensing restrictions, I’m just reporting how things work.  It turns out that when I re-subscribed I could go back and download those previously subscribed issues.  In other words, you can get past back issues if your currently subscribing and paid for them previously, but they aren’t accessible when you aren’t paying the current monthly fee.

Reading on the iPad wasn’t bad, but I had an iPad 2, the one before the Retina Display, and reading small print was a bitch.  Using a tablet for both bookshelf and reader has it’s drawbacks.  When I upgraded to iOS 7 and v. 4 of the Kindle Reader, it zapped my collection of old magazines, telling me I needed to download them again.  I had just cancelled my Kindle subscription of The Rolling Stone, because I had started getting the paper copy again, and thus I couldn’t re-download my old issues.

Okay, I thought, the reason I subscribed to the paper copy of The Rolling Stone was to get access to the complete archive online.  Well, that didn’t work out either.  The online viewer for The Rolling Stone has one of the worst screen readers I’ve ever used.  It magnifies better than the iPad, but moving around the page and between pages is just flat out horrible.  I can’t believe many people would take the time to read old copies of RS online.

[Update 10-18-13 – the RS online reader looks great on my 24″ iMac at work.  For some reason the reader controls and the bottom of the page are removed from my Windows 7/Chrome browsing.  I also tested it on Ubuntu 13.10, with Firefox on a 1280×1024 screen.  It worked better than Windows 7/Chrome but not as nearly as good as Mac/Safari.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a Mac at home.  I need to test Windows 7/IE and iPad 2 when I get home.  Maybe there’s hope.]

What’s funny is the reader that comes with the complete archive on DVD is much better, but still clunky.  They’ve had that reader for years.  The current online reader won’t even show the bottom of the page on my 23” 1920×1080 screen.  It’s a huge step backward.

You know what? It turns out the old fashion paper magazine is the real winner here.  Damn, technology goes down in flames.

Now it is possible to create an elegant screen reader that shows old magazines, just look this December, 1959 issue of Galaxy Magazine at Archive.org.  If the folks at The Rolling Stone used this program to show it’s back issues I’d be in periodical heaven.

galaxy-mag

[Click to enlarge]

Now I’d love to have a complete back run of Galaxy Magazine in this format.  It would be better than owning all those shelves of moldy pulp paper copies.  And it would be great to have them on a modern tablet with 2560 x 1600 pixels screen.  The Archive.org reader works very well on my iPad, making it the most comfortable way to read this classic SF mag.

The ideal way to read magazines would be to have a large, very high resolution tablet, with the complete archive of a magazine online, and an excellent viewer app.  That way the environment benefits, and we wouldn’t be bothered by shelves and shelves of old magazines to maintain.

Right now I’m very disappointed with the electronic versions of The Rolling Stone, either tablet version or online version.  Reading the paper version is the easiest technology.  That’s a shame.  I was so looking forward to doing some serious reading of past years of The Rolling Stone.  Now that I start my retirement years next Wednesday I’ve got some real reading time.

JWH – 10/17/13

How Internet Pricing Influences My Buying Decisions

You can go out at night and see a movie for $10.  Watching a movie a night would cost $300 a month.

If you like to own and collect movies, you could buy DVDs and Blu-rays for the same amount of money if you shopped for bargains, ending up collecting 365 movies a year.  But if you’re buying a new movie every night to watch, when would you re-watch anything in your collection?  Ownership ain’t what it used to be.

Then there’s cable TV.  For $80 a month, 24×7 movies, don’t worry about going out, shopping, collecting or shelving.

But for $7.99 a month can join Netflix and get one disc out at a time, and if you watch them immediately, and live in a city with a distribution center, might squeeze in a dozen movies a month, paying 67 cents a movie.  $15.99 a month you can get 3 discs out at a time, and probably cover having a movie every night of the month, getting your per flick cost down to 53 cents.

For that same $7.99 you can get Netflix streaming, and theoretically watch twelve 2-hour movies a day all month.  $7.99 / (12 x 30), which is about 2 cents a movie, or a more realistic 26 cents a movie if you watching only one a night.

Of course, you could just steal movies on the net and pay 0 cents per movie, but hey, we’re not thieves.

In other words, the Internet makes things cheaper.  But does it improve our lives and society to let people watch a movie for 26 cents?

In 1965 I became a record addict, and averaged buying 2 to 4 albums a week until I found Internet Pricing.  In the old days I bought LPs, and then CDs.  At it’s peak I was spending $200-300 a month on music.  Now I spend a flat $9.99 a month at Rdio and get access to over 20 million songs.  Internet Pricing strikes again.

My wife and I used to subscribe to the local paper and over twenty magazines.  Except for a couple e-magazine subscriptions on my Kindle, I no longer subscribe to periodicals and read stuff off the internet for free.

I’d like to get The New York Times, but at $15 a month is too expensive to what I’ve got accustomed to from Internet Pricing.  For $18 a month I get Netflix streaming and Rdio, or tens of thousands of movies, television shows, documentaries, and a couple million albums.  So why would I pay $15 for a single daily paper?  Why isn’t there a company that charges $7.99 a month to read all newspapers from around the world?

Next Issue charges $15/month for access to 107 magazines.  That’s the same price The New York Times charges for 1 newspaper.  Sadly, none of my favorite magazines are available through Next Issue (The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, New York Review of Books, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Harpers, Discover, New Scientist, Sky & Telescope, etc.)

See, I’ve been corrupted by Internet Pricing.  At one time getting The New York Times for $15 a month would have been a tremendous bargain.  Now, I feel it’s too expensive when I compared other content I buy off the Internet.  My innate sense of pricing was also distorted by reading the NYT for free online for years, and the fact there are many good newspapers from around the world that are still free to read online.

Would we have a more vibrant economy, with more jobs, if the internet didn’t exist?

I’ve been corrupted by Internet Pricing in other ways.  Last month I wanted to buy an issue of Harper’s Magazine to read one article.  But I just couldn’t let myself spend $5.99 to read one article.  However Harper’s is tempting me.  For subscribers to their paper copy, they give access to 163 years of back issues on the internet.  I can get a year sub to Harper’s at Amazon for $15.  See how Internet Pricing is disruptive?  $15 for one month of the NY Times, or $15 for 163 years of Harper’s Magazine for a year.  The New York Review of Books recently offered me 10 issues for $10 that included 50 years of online archives.  The Rolling Stone also has a similar deal for $19.95 for a 26 issue sub and a complete run of back issues online.  I don’t want paper copies of anything, but I do want access to complete archives.  However, they won’t sell me just the archive access.  Those savvy magazines publishers have figured things out, sell their old technology at normal prices and give Internet Pricing for free.  I took the $10 deal, and I’m seriously considering subscribing to magazines again if I get their complete archive.

I go into a bookstore now and it kills me to pay list price for a magazine.  I’ve been corrupted by Internet Pricing.  Now I might just be a cheapskate, but what if I’m typical.  How is being corrupted by Internet Pricing affecting people across the world. What is its impact on GDP?

JWH – 9/23/13

My Favorite Free Newspapers and Magazines on the Web

When The New York Times put up a paywall I stopped reading it.  I love The New York Times, but $180 a year is outrageous for what was once free.  I was even more shocked at that the same content costs even more to read on a tablet or smart phone.  I found ways around their monthly page limits, but ultimately I just gave up trying to regularly read the paper.  I’m not against newspapers and magazines charging money for their content, I just think it needs to be a fair price.  Of course a fair price is like beauty, and is set in the eyes of the beholder.  $15 a month might be the right price for upscale New Yorkers, but not to me.  If The New York Times charged $29.95 a year for digital subscriptions, I’d be a subscriber.  Instead I decided to go looking for other sources of news.

By the way, I have a weird concept about periodical pricing.  A newspaper that produces 365 editions a year sounds like it should cost more than a magazine that produces twelve issues a year.  But I can only read so much per day, and only involve with myself with so many periodicals.  On average, I read about as much from a daily newspaper as I do from a weekly or monthly journal, so in my mind, they each require a reading grazing fee, which should be about equal.  The difference between magazines and newspaper titles is not quantity, but quality of writing and the amount I can read.  Since I can only read an hour or less a day on periodical publications, I’m not willing to spend more than $15 a month total for my newsy reading.

As long as some publishers offer free content I’m going to consider it first.  The internet is full of free content, but which free source of essays and articles are the best?  What content is worth paying for if it was reasonably priced?  I pay $9.99 a month to Rdio for streaming digital music.  I subscribe to The Rolling Stone Magazine and The New York Review of Books on my iPad.  I’m open to paying for more content, but the price has to be right.

Commercial newspapers and magazines generally produce the best writing anywhere because they pay professional writers.  In searching for the best content on the web, I tend to find the highest concentration of quality writing at print magazine and newspaper sites.  These free sites are so good I would pay for them if I had to and the price was right.

And paywalls sites still offer lots of free content. The New York Times is very generous by allowing readers following links to read full articles.  Other sites, like New Scientist suck readers in but quickly cut off the flow of free words.  But even NS will offer some free complete reads.

The sample articles I use come from my Evernote clippings or from my Twitter feed, which I use to remember articles I read and like.

the-atlantic

The Atlantic

Far and away, my favorite free online magazine is The Atlantic.  Their website provides content from their print magazine along with original content written just for the web.  I subscribe to their daily updates which recommends 3-5 articles to read each day.  The Atlantic’s web reporting equals their top tier print reporting.

 

latimes-books

Los Angeles Times

I started noticing the Los Angeles Times when Zite frequently sent me there to read book reviews.  Zite is a tablet app that does for article reading what Pandora does for music.  You thumbs up and down what you read and Zite finds more of what you like.  The LA Times evidently is writing more of what I like to read.

 

Cv1v3__06CV0

The Smithsonian

I can’t figure out if content for The Smithsonian is blocked or if they just end every article with “subscribe now for more coverage” to scare you into thinking there’s more to be had if you plunk down some dollars.  I keep finding plenty of free stuff to read.  Fascinating stuff.  Actually, more great stuff to read even if I read 24×7.  Here is the listing for the last March, 2013 issue.  And here is the start of the archive section.

 

the-guardian

The Guardian

The Guardian is another newspaper that Zite often takes me to.   Zite and Google links me to foreign newspapers, which is one of the great pluses of the world wide web.  Zite knows I love book reviews and both the LA Times and The Guardian reviews a lot of books.

 

brain-pickings

Brain Pickings

Brain Pickings isn’t a commercial newspaper or magazine, but it’s so professional that it should be.  Maria Popova is a professional writer who has created a beautiful web site that she calls “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.”  Brain Pickings is classy blog written by a professional writer with amazing graphic design skills.  I wish Auxiliary Memory was 1/100th as good.

 

edge

Edge.org

John Brockman’s Edge.org is where the world’s smartest people hang out.  The site is built around conversations with cutting edge thinkers, but it also focuses on the latest science books.  The conversations are often a narrative overview of a current project.  Edge.org is not a newspaper or magazine, but the quality of content is so great that it competes well with professional journalism.  The contributors are major science writers and philosophers, writing about research on the front lines of new knowledge.

 

Most sites on the web are free.  It’s hard to imagine that pay sites can compete with so much quality free content.  My six favorite sites are just a drop in the gigantic WWW bucket.  My goal is to find the right mixture of reporting that gives me the best puzzle pieces for mapping reality.  All too often we read news that is immediately forgotten.  I want to read articles that educate me with a lasting impact.  In fact, I often think reading less on the internet is better.

Like junk food with empty calories, the web is full of junk data and empty facts.  Brilliant articles that are available for all to share should have a great impact on our society.  It used to be people had to buy books and journals to get quality information.  Now all seven billion of us have access to a tremendous amount of free knowledge.  We can all be renaissance men and women.  The quest is to find the needle in the haystack article to read each day that makes a lasting impression.

Tools like Zite let me quickly review 20-30 newly published articles each day, out of thousands.  But the real goal, is to find the single article that’s worthy of study, contemplation and memory.

However, there is a problem with this system.  It only gets me the free articles.  What if the best articles still cost money?  Is the best knowledge being shared today, or withheld?

JWH – 3/3/13

Kindle Magazines FYI

Last year I started subscribing to several magazines at the Kindle Newsstand and read them on my iPad.  For $1.99 or $2.99 a month, it’s very easy to try out a magazine.  Then towards the end of the year I realized I wasn’t reading these magazines and cancelled my subscriptions.  I figured I’d wait until I had time to read, then go through the back issues and decide if I really wanted to subscribe again.  Well, today I went to look at some of the back issues and they wouldn’t download.  I got a message “License Limit Reached.”

At first this message seem to imply that I had too many registered devices.  I have two iPod touches, two e-ink Kindles, one iPad, one Kindle cloud reader, and six different PC readers.  I deregistered everything but one touch, two Kindles and one iPad.  Still got the message.  So I called Amazon.  The first lady I talked to was very nice, but she eventually bumped me up a service level.  The second lady knew exactly what my problem was.  If you cancel your subscription, but haven’t downloaded the magazines you bought to a device yet, you will get the license limit reached error.

I told her I felt I had bought those magazines and assumed I’d always have them.  She said unfortunately, that’s not how the system works with the licensing agreement they have with the magazines.  I didn’t think that was right, but the lady I was talking with was very nice, and I assumed she was stuck with this policy, so it wasn’t Amazon’s fault.  The helpdesk lady did apologize and gave me a token credit.

FYI:  always download your magazines from the cloud to your devices before you cancel your subscription.    And I noticed that I didn’t have this problem with my old issues of The Rolling Stone Magazine.  I had just re-subscribed to it.  But then I couldn’t remember I had previously downloaded all those issues.  So just for kicks, I re-subscribed to The New York Review of Books, and viola, my old issues were again available to download.

rollingstone

Crazy Subscription Pricing

I read on the iPad with the Kindle reader to save trees.  It just ecological.  Also, you can try a magazine without buying a whole year’s worth.  Most magazines at the Kindle Newsstand are available for a monthly fee.  But pricing is crazy.

Yesterday, at my favorite bookstore, I saw an issue of The Rolling Stone Magazine I wanted to read.  It was $4.99, plus tax at the book store.  It’s $1.99 a month at Amazon, which means I get 2 issues for $1.99, a savings of $8 over the newsstand price of two issues.  26 issues is $19.97 a year via a paper subscription – or 77 cents an issue.  So I’m paying Amazon $23.88 a year for the electronic version, or 92 cents an issue.

So the cheapest way to get The Rolling Stone is to buy the paper copy and have them mail it to you.  How is that even possible?  I’m paying them $4 a year more not to print the magazine and mail it to me.  Not only that, but if I subscribed to the paper copy I’d be eligible to read the entire archive of back issues online.  This is a conundrum for me.  I want to be ecological.  A lot of carbon goes into printing and mailing, and that makes me feel guilty about the physical copy subscription.  But for $4 less money I’d get the digital archive!  That’s so tempting.

You’d think they’d charge less for the Kindle edition because there’s no printing or postal costs.  Maybe Amazon’s cut requires the increase, yet Amazon also sells the paper subscriptions for $19.97, just two cents more than Rolling Stones does with it’s fall out cards in the mag.

The New York Review of Books is $41.88 yearly at the Kindle Newsstand at $3.49 a month, but it’s $69.00 a year at their site, or $74.95 a year for the paper and online edition. So Amazon is a bargain, except once again I don’t get access to the digital archive.  I’d rather pay less and read The New York Review of Books on my iPad, but I sure would love access to the digital archive.

The Future of Magazine

It seems obvious that we’re moving toward a digital future.  Why waste all that money on printing and postage when magazines can be instantly delivered.  To me the perfect magazine subscription would be the cheapest with the least commitment, along with access to the entire archive of the magazine’s history.  I’m willing to pay a monthly fee for new and old.  What I’d really love is paying a monthly fee like Netflix’s and get access to a bunch of magazines.  Next Issue does offer such a service now for $10-15 a month, but they don’t have the magazines I want to read.  It’s like cable TV, 200 channels and nothing to watch.  I’m currently subscribing to two magazines that totals $5.48 a month.  If The Rolling Stone and The New York Review of Books were available at Next Issue along with 1-2 other magazines I wanted, then $10 a month would be a good deal.  I’d need 5-6 magazines I really wanted to make it worth $15 a month.  I’ll keep my eye out on Next Issue, but for now it seems weight towards women’s magazines.

JWH – 2/24/13