Rethinking Magazines on the iPad 2 and Kindle 3

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   

Should We Feel Guilty for Not Buying Books in Bookstores?

I’m a guy who hates to shop, but for my whole life I’ve loved shopping in bookstores and record stores.  I gave up on record stores years ago, but I still shop at bookstores, but not as much as I used to.  Yesterday I visited my local indie bookstore and bought a hardback The Man Who Invented the Computer  by Jane Smiley just to support them.  I could have bought it at Amazon and saved $12 in discounts and taxes, but I thought I’d help my store and state.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished as my mother-in-law used to say.  I get home and read the reviews on Amazon and they aren’t good at all, including many claims of poor research, inaccuracies and even fraud and scandal.  Of 24 customer reviews 12 gave it 1 star, 5 people gave it 3 stars.  If I had been shopping at Amazon those reviews would have stopped me from buying the book.  Now this isn’t the fault of my bookstore, but it does point out a major advantage of shopping online.

The main reason to shop at a bookstore is to see books before you buy and allow yourself the pleasure of discovering something new and exciting.  But shopping at a store literally means judging a book by its cover.

I’m in three online book clubs and a hot topic in all of them are ebooks.  Some folks are pro, and others are definitely con.  But we all lament the disappearance of bookstores, and feel guilty that we buy books online or via those new fangled contraptions like Kindles, iPads and Nooks.  But I’m wondering if we really should feel guilty?

Quite a few club members, especially those living in small towns, say going to a bookstore is expensive and time consuming.  Others are housebound and feel online shopping and ebooks are a godsend.  Me, I like to study reviews before I buy.  And despite what everyone says about personal customer service, I’ve never met a sales clerk as knowledgeable as good reviewers.

Another thing to consider, among my bookworm friends who love shopping for books locally, many of them actually treasure the used bookstores and looking for good deals.

But I hate the idea of just letting bookstores disappear like record stores.  I’ve read that Germany protects bookstores from online sales and ebooks by outlawing discounting.  This makes books more expensive, but protects bookstores, publishers and authors.  I’ve also read that other countries have various ways of mandating price controls.  This is great for saving jobs and keeping businesses afloat, but it’s not very free market.  Should we reevaluate our ideas about free markets?  I don’t know.

What if online sellers had to sell books for the same price as local bookstores and charge the same sales tax, so books were equally priced no matter where you bought them.  I’d still say Amazon was a better place to shop because it’s so much more informative.

I’d also prefer buying used books online.  I bought three used books this week, The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker, The Last Starship From Earth by John Boyd and I, robot – the illustrated screenplay by Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov.  I would have to shop for years before I would have even seen copies of any of those books in local used bookstores, but they were a few keystrokes away with ABE Books.  I also bought an ebook, Aegean Dreams by Dario Ciriello because it was only $5.99 on the Kindle, versus $14.44 for the trade paper at Amazon.

At the Classic Science Fiction Online Book Club, we’re voting on the books we’re going to read for the next six months, and one of the major considerations is availability and price.  Members are scattered all over the world, and few want to buy new copies.  Most of the books we’re nominating can be found at ABE Books for $4-5 used, including shipping, and some can be had as ebooks for $5-10, or new for $8-20.  Some of the members with ebook readers say they will buy the ebook edition if it’s priced closed to the used edition.  Others with good used bookstore nearby are finding copies for less than a dollar.  But see the trend?  New hardbacks and trade paper editions have to compete with online discounted books and used books, so it’s not just ebooks hurting new book sales.

One member found this list of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Bookstores that include online and local bookstores.  There’s a huge variety of options for shopping online.  Some stores on the list do have a physical buildings to visit, but they also do business online.  How does an old fashion bookstore compete?

And maybe that’s the clue.  Maybe online is just a new kind of bookstore.

The times are changing and more and more people are seeing the wind is blowing in a new direction.  There’s a new documentary, Press Pause Play about how technology is impacting artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and other creative folk.  It’s scary to them because they don’t know how they can earn a living when the traditional methods of marketing their work are disappearing.

We are living in evolutionary times.  I’m turning 60 this year, and many of the people that I know lamenting the loss of bookstores are my age or older.  Have the young already forgotten bookstores?  Our nephew while giving directions to his apartment today said to turn past that building where you mail stuff.  Will concepts like the post office, book store, record store, phone booth, and video rental store even be known to the young in a few years?

It’s weird to be an anachronism in your own time.

JWH – 10/2/11

Classic Science Fiction Anthologies Wanted for My Kindle and iPod

Ebook publishing offers a new lease on life for reprinting old novels but what about short stories and classic anthologies?  Successful novels tend to stay in print, but not anthologies.  I suppose editors buy rights for a limited time and when the anthology goes out of print they no longer have the rights to use the stories any more. But I’d sure love to have a lot of classic science fiction anthologies on my Kindle.

I like my Kindle best for reading short stories.  I’ve been getting the annual Dozois and Hartwell/Cramer collections for my Kindle for a couple years now and it really works out well.  The Dozois book is HUGE with small print, so its much easier to plow through the volume reading on an ebook.

I wished Dozois and the Hartwell/Cramer collections were available on audio, but alas they are not.  But I do get  The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction series, edited by Allan Kastor, now in it’s third year.

So I’m well covered on current stories, but what about classic science fiction short stories?

What if it was possible to reprint classic anthologies, which ones would I want?

Adventures in Time and Space edited by Healy and McComas


The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929-1964


Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 2



Asimov’s Great SF Stories (series 1-25, 1939-1963)


The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954


Judith Merril Year’s Greatest (1956-59) and Year’s Best S-F (1960-66)

SF-The Year's Greatest

World’s Best Science Fiction (1965-1971) edited by Wollheim and Carr


The 1972-1990 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim


Best Science Fiction of the Year edited by Terry Carr (1-16)


The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois 1984-present



This hardly scratches the surface of great science fiction anthologies, but by using the annual bests it systematically covers all the years from 1939 to the present.  And we can capture the 1930s with these two collections.

Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov


Science Fiction of the Thirties edited by Damon Knight


I could go back even further with the Sam Moskowitz collections like Under the Moons of Mars and Science Fiction by Gaslight.

If only all these fantastic collections could be reprinted as ebooks, or better yet, as audio books.  I suppose some enterprising publisher and editor could look at the stories in all these collections and seek to get reprint rights and create a new series of anthologies.  They could call it Classic Science Fiction for the Digital Age and publish it in a series of volumes for ebooks and audio.

Would there be much of an audience for this old science fiction?  I don’t know.  Project Guttenberg is reprinting a lot of early science fiction in multiple ebook formats that often include the original art.  Take a look at this September 1930 issue of Astounding Magazine.  It’s beautifully laid out for html, but also offers many ebook formats here.


Copyrights will keep modern science fiction, like what’s in most of the best of the best-of anthologies above out of these public domain offerings, which is rather sad.  It means most of those stories will probably be never read again.  Of course, I don’t know if there are readers for these public domain reprints.  I do wish someone would make an easy to use app to add the Project Guttenberg issues of Astounding to my iPad.  I’ll have to experiment with this and write about it in a future blog.

JWH – 9/3/11


News Processing on the iPad with Flipboard

There is too much goddamn information in this world – but what can we do about it?

First off, we could ignore it.  Take up reading  Sci-Fi novels or watching reality TV and just tune out the world.  Well, that doesn’t work for me.  I’m a little like that robot in Short Circuit, Johnny 5, who craves more input.  Johnny 5 can read an encyclopedia in a matter of minutes and begs for more, but I can’t.  I don’t want to be like God and know about every dang sparrow that falls from a tree, but I do want a rough idea of what’s going on around this old reality each day.

What I crave is a good steady flow of knowledge about this world and the cosmos.  I like learning new things, but I also need time to ponder fresh data and digest it.  Like most people I want to be up on current events, and not too out of touch with popular culture.  I’m not quite ready for the youngsters to be laughing at me for not knowing the current crop of glitterati of the moment, although I really don’t care, either about being laughed at or who is currently grabbing their 15 minutes of fame.

The trouble is we live in world overflowing with information.  If facts were water droplets there would be no land on this planet.

Keeping up with the news used to mean reading the newspaper or maybe a couple of magazines. Then came television which really made being nosey addictive.  Now with the world wide web we have access to countless newspapers, magazines, television stations, web sites, blogs all coming to us at once.  It’s a wise man who knows what he doesn’t want to know.

For some people getting their daily dose of reality is as simple as watching the NBC Nightly News 30 minutes a day.  But this is baby food news, predigested bites served from little jars and spoon fed to those who are still in the crawling stage of exploring reality.  The next step up for toddlers is the PBS NewsHour.  But then we run into the issue of facts per hour barrier.  How many people really want to spend more than a hour a day getting the news when most of it is repetitive and overly verbose.

What if you could read reports, study graphs and photos and see video clips at your own pace – tailored just your informational curiosity?  That’s what I’m trying to do with my iPad

A tablet computer can nicely format text for reading, show video clips in bright clarity, and display photos that look better than a slick magazine with the extra feature that you can zoom in on them for close study.  It’s outdoes the newspaper, magazine and competes well against the television and the web.

The trick is to get just the right words, videos and photos to view on the tablet.  And it’s a very hard trick.

Enter Flipboard for the iPad.  It does several things, but not perfectly – yet.

  • RSS feed reader
  • Twitter client
  • Facebook client
  • Digests many popular magazines, newspapers and websites

I already like taking in Facebook and Twitter content better on the iPad and Flipboard because Flipboard formats this web content to look like a elegantly laid out magazine.  It’s far more eye catching, but then Facebook is a homely looking website, so it’s not that hard to beat.

It’s also nicer to read RSS content on Flipboard than Google Reader, although there are some big limitations.  RSS feeds come through in two styles.  Some sites send the whole page, and others send just a teaser and a link back to the original web page.  They want you to come look at their ads.  Falling out of Flipboard into its browser mode is unpleasant.  I don’t like reading web pages on the tablet even with the magic of spreading and pinching pages to make them readable.  If I’m going to read the web I’d rather be sitting at my 22” desktop screen. 

However, many websites do send the full pages in their feeds and these look wonderful on the iPad because Flipboard makes their content look like it was published in an issue of National Geographic.

To make up for this limitation of RSS feeds Flipboard has contracted with publishers like Condé Nast to stream their content into Flipboard’s beautiful formatting.  These do come with original ads or even extra ads, but they look like they do in magazines, and not like web pages.  However, these pages are handled different from the RSS content.  Instead of scrolling up to read a long article, they are formatted into pages that you have to flip.  Here’s what Flipboard looks like:

After configuring Flipboard with my accounts at Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader I opened Flipboard and started flipping.  Fantastic first impression, and then I noticed, gee, there’s a lot of damn pages to read here.  Now that’s the essential key to using Flipboard, cutting down your input.

I’m leaving Facebook as it is, but I’m thinking of cutting out a lot of “friends.”  On Twitter, which was already minimally used, I cut out very active feeds.  Then I went to Google Reader and deleted RSS subscriptions to any feed that used the teaser method of providing content.  I only want complete articles sent to me.  I also deleted feeds that sent articles by the hundreds.

What I want is my own personalized digital magazine that I can flip through each day and keep up with what I’m interested in.  It’s going to take awhile to customize Flipboard to get things just the way I like things.  It will  take a few more revisions of the program too.

Flipboard opens on the Favorites section.  The first page has 9 photo squares that each equal a content source.  With the More feature you can add 12 more squares on the next page, each a new content source.

Through the More feature – content from professional publishers like Time, Wired, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Salon, Huffington Post, Elle, Rolling Stone, etc. can be added to the Favorites squares.  Flipboard can expand your magazine to cover endless varieties of news.  This canned list of content that Flipboard has arranged with publishers is ever growing.  They sort this content by twelve categories but that will probably expand too.   You can use these many sources to build new Favorites sections. These pages look like actual magazine pages with ads, and they might be direct copies from printed pages, or facsimiles.

What Flipboard is doing is trying to be the best RSS feed reader possible, but it’s going beyond the RSS feed with contractual agreements with magazines, newspapers and television shows to provide custom Flipboard feeds not based on the RSS standard.

Now this is all wonderful, and it does reduce the hurricane of data from the Internet into merely a fire hose of magazine pages, but it’s still too much.

What’s needed is artificial intelligence to monitor my reading tastes and further customize the content flow to just stuff I want to read.  I want Flipboard to be much more than what it is.  Which brings me to Instapaper – a web service that allows web readers to save content to read later.  Flipboard can be configured so if you tap an icon at the bottom of the page and select Read Later the article is saved at Instapaper so you can read it later.  But you have to read it at Instapaper web or quit Flipboard on the iPad and launch the Instapaper app.  What would be neat is if Flipboard saved the read later articles in it’s own app – so one of my Favorites squares would be Read Later.  And of course, Flipboard would need to create a browser add-on to mark pages like Instapaper.

Now, I have figured out how create a workaround for this.  I can just Tweet everything I see on the web that I want to read later.  But this isn’t exactly what I want.  What I want is for a Flipboard AI to know what I want to read and have it ready like the President’s assistants with his morning briefing of the news.

The whole key to all of this is reducing the flow of things to read.  Flipboard can’t do this – yet.  Maybe not ever.  It might take another app invention to do what I want.  What might be needed is a social network of very like minded readers.  Digg, Reddit and StubleUpon are much too broad.  Essentially I want a 30 minute briefing on reality each day, with the option to read one long article that might take 15-30 minutes more reading time if I have it.  I don’t want to spend 30 minutes a day trying to find the news that I want.

It might be possible to hook me up with the right 100 people who like to read the same exact content as I  do.  Then each of us would have to spend 5-10 minutes a day looking at Flipboard or the web and mark the best articles for our daily custom reading, which would be a cross tabulated to find the most popular for all of us to read.

Another way would be to allow readers to list specific topics they are interested in and the amount of words they want on these topics.  For example, I might say I want Cosmology articles that run from 500-1,500 words.  Anything shorter or longer is excluded.

Right now the iPad is another big time waster like TV and the web.  I know a lot of people who like to watch their TV shows and movies on their iPad.  The iPod made music listening very private, now tablet computers are making TV watching very private.  Apps like Flipboard could also manage my TV shows too – that’s another issue.

JWH – 8/16/11

How Kindle and Nook Can Better Compete With The iPad

Last weekend I wrote “To Ebook or Not To Ebook” and I’m still agonizing over which ebook reader to get.  There are two main issues I’m still worrying over.  First, which book is the most comfortable to read for long periods, and second, which ebook reader is the most universal in terms of buying ebooks.  I imagine the light E-Ink readers, the Nook and Kindle, are easier to hold for long periods of time, but it’s obvious the iPad can read books from Amazon, B&N, iBooks, and many other smaller ebook sellers.  The iPad is almost the universal ebook reader and I’m leaning towards buying it.

My need for reading comfort might put me in a limited market so my buying desires are of less concern to ebook engineers, but I wished they’d consider them.  I have bad eyes, and back problems that make it uncomfortable to sit long in one position, and an arm problem that makes holding a book pain inducing over time.  I’m getting old and wimpy.  I’d love to sit and read for hours like I used to, but it’s a struggle.  That’s why I fear the iPad – many reviewers have complained its difficult to hold for lengthy reading sessions.

And, besides that, I don’t want Apple to just crush the competition, so how could the Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Sony ereaders better compete with the iPad?

Universal Reader

First off, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders should make a cross license deal to display each other’s DRM material.  That way any Kindle, Nook or Kobo owner could buy and read books from all the leading booksellers.  The obvious solution would be a universal ebook format and DRM, but that might take years to hammer out.  It might be easier to add competitor’s software to each others readers.  Obviously, the iPad does it with ease.

The reason why I’m leaning towards the iPad is because I can buy books from all the major ebook retailers and read it on the iPad.  If the E-Ink readers want to compete they need to do the same thing.  It was foolish of Amazon to start the trend for proprietary readers.

Add a Handle with Trigger

The second way to compete with the iPad is make the E-Ink readers even more svelte and easier to hold.  I wished they came with a detachable handle so the ebook reader would look something like a church fan.  A nice handgrip with a trigger to page forward would make holding an ebook reader nicer, and make the page turning more convenient.  You can leave the back page button on the reader because it wouldn’t be needed that often.  I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine a handgrip handle would be more comfortable to hold than holding the ebook reader like a book. 

I’m talking about making the device comfortable for reading 8 hours at a stretch.  This is where the iPad is weak.

The Third Option

I’ve even thought of another option, but this one by-passes the E-Ink technology.  Keep the books in the handle and beam the content to a pair of special glasses via Bluetooth.  I wonder if it’s possible to make a pair of glasses that displays words that are even easier to read, something that helps the reader tune out the world and become one with the word.  In the music world we’ve moved the speakers into the ears, why not move the page right in front of the eyes?

Why Reading is Specialized

iPad fans lord their gadgets over the E-Ink readers claiming its a universal solution.  They ask why anyone would want a specialized device when one device, the iPad, can do so much.  I think the iPad is a revolutionary device, it moves the computer screen off the desk or lap and into the hands where it makes a big functional difference.  But is that the ultimate location?  And is it the right weight and form factor?

Bookworms like to read for hours on end, and the ultimate ebook reader will cater to that need.  I tend to believe the lower weight of the E-Ink technology gives it a chance to compete with the more glamorous and universal device of the iPad if they are optimized for streamline reading of text.

Many bloggers and journalists have written about the approaching doom for the E-Ink reader, but I tend to doubt those predictions.  That doesn’t mean I won’t buy an iPad any day now, but it also doesn’t mean I won’t buy a Kindle 3 when it comes out.  The new Pearl E-Ink technology is appealing.  It just galls me to think about buying ebook reader that can’t read all ebooks.

The Deciding Factor

To be honest, the universal ebook reader of the iPad sways me more than comfort of the smaller E-Ink technology readers, and I’ll probably buy an iPad for now.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy an E-Ink reader too, especially if they become a universal reader.  I’m greatly disappointed that most books I’m reading right now aren’t available for any ebook reader.  That sucks.  But we’re living in transitional times for books and times will change soon.

JWH 7/4/10

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