Since I’m a gadget freak I wanted to love reading magazines on the iPad and Kindle. It wasn’t love at first sight though. Reading a digital magazine takes different skills than reading a paper magazine, and at 60 it’s not always easy to teach an old dog new tricks. However, I’m an old dog that’s become very near sighted, and having a tablet is like having a handicap device that helps me with my physical failings.
Because I can make the font larger, and the photos larger and brighter, the experience of reading on a tablet wins out over paper, but I’m not saying it’s magical. Zite, a reading app for the iPad, is magical. Think Pandora for articles instead of playing songs, because I can’t show you what Zite looks like. Zite isn’t on the web, it’s only for iOS, Android and webOS mobile devices. But even Zite is just a start.
We need a new paradigm for magazine reading.
Right now publishers are working hard to make magazines look identical to their printed versions on the tablet screen, but that’s ignoring the power of the computer built into the tablet. And I’ve got to wonder why I have to page through ads when I pay more for the iPad version of magazine than I do for a printed subscription. For example I could get Rolling Stone for $20 on paper, but I’m paying $36 for the digital. WTF?
If I’m going to pay more, why not make reading easier and forget the printed layout and ads? But I doubt that will happen. Zite usually jettisons the ads, and its free. So, how does that business model work? It won’t for long. What’s needed is a paid Zite subscription.
I get The New Yorker on my Kindle 3 and it does leave out the printed formatting and ads. It’s pure text reading. The Kindle 3 is much lighter and easier to hold than the iPad, so reading The New Yorker is a pleasure, but not visually exciting. A step backward, although it’s much easier on the eyes.
When I’m reading just words, whether for a book or magazine, I much prefer reading them on the Kindle e-ink screen, or the retinal display of my iPod touch. The damn iPad is a pain to hold. But if I want to see photos I need the iPad. This is probably why the Kindle Fire is a 7” tablet. But none of these devices are perfect. In fact, reading nirvana is nowhere to be seen.
It’s like that new ad on TV for the Microsoft phone that claims up till now all smart phones have been beta devices. Well, we’re still in beta when it come to tablets and magazine reading.
In fact, I’m ready to give up magazines altogether, either print or digital. Zite has taught me that, as well as the Best American series of anthologies that come out each year collecting the best magazine magazine writing into ebooks to read on the Kindle.
Magazines have a lot of content I just don’t want to read or look at. When I could flip through a paper copy it was easy to ignore the crap, but with a digital edition the easiest way to read a magazine is to start at the beginning and flip pages till the end. That just reminds me of how much content I don’t want to see.
How often have you paid several dollars to read one article in a magazine? How often have you paid several dollars for a magazine and read none of the articles, just flip through the pages, reading snatches here and there and looked at some pictures? Magazines are like cable TV, 200 channels when you really only want 8.
What we need is magazine article singles, like buying songs at iTunes. Articles should be 99 cents for long meaty ones, and less for shorter ones.
Like I said, this transition from paper to digital is making me rethink magazines. Either digital magazines need to become a whole lot better at providing just what I want for a fair price, or I’m going to either give up on reading magazines altogether, or just go back to paper editions that I only buy with very cheapo subscription deals.
I’m not sure the iPad is the wonder gadget that I thought it was. Except for Words with Friends and Zite, most of my dozens of app icons go untapped. I’ve bought some of those fancy multimedia books and never read them. They are neat for a few minutes, but not for hours. Most of the digital magazines I’ve bought haven’t been read. In fact, my New Yorker issues pile up in my Kindle 3 just like how the paper copies used to pile up unread.
JWH – 5/2/12