Zinio – The Future of Magazines?

Zinio has recently made a big push to offer magazines online on various platforms.  Is this the future of magazines?ADHERER

I’ve been a Zinio subscriber for years, but I confess I rarely use it.  When it first debuted, I was excited.  Suddenly, I could read my magazines online and wouldn’t have to keep a stack of stuff in my closet to have those magazines if I ever needed them again.

But the allure quickly wore off.  Suddenly, my magazines were tethered to my desktop PC, not readable where magazines are supposed to be read: on the toilet.

Of course, some of you are saying, “laptop!”  But the reality is that booting a laptop on the way to the can and holding it on your lap while… well, you know… it’s just not ideal.

Queue the iPhone and iPad.  The world’s #1 leading toilet content consumption devices.  Sort of a #1 device for #2 consumption.  Or the like.

Bathroom humor aside, I really dig the Zinio apps for iPhone and iPad.  They have a long way to go to be 100% perfect, but for a first round, they are blazing trails and setting standards that I think we can get behind.  And as time rolls on, it will only get better.

So, I ran across this article, and thought what better way to review the Zinio apps than to critique someone else’s review?  So, here goes, in a point-counterpoint style.

Just like Apple with its iBookstore, Zinio has established relationships with an impressive array of publications.

Well, they should.  They’ve been at this game for years.  I would like to see MORE publications in Zinio’s stable (CPU Magazine and Maximum PC, I’m talking to you).  As well, Zinio is in the process of converting their old stuff to the iPhone/iPad format.  They need to step on this.  I have tons of old magazines that I would love to see on the iPad, but to date I can’t.

For starters, each page takes around a second to load. Take a moment and imagine that…imagine reading a magazine and waiting an entire second every time you decide to turn a page.

This is ridiculous.  First of all, the Kindle doesn’t seem to suffer from the second it takes to turn the page.  Second, the majority of magazine articles are all on the single page that you have loaded.  So once that page is loaded, you can read pretty much the entire article without another page load required (the Zinio app also has a text-only version of the articles, which is great, but they need to somehow have the pictures in that version too… see Instapaper for a great way to do this).  And the way the page loads, it gives you a blurry version of it instantly, which is enough to read the title and determine if you want to read the article on that page or not, and then you can skip to the next page if you like.  This cannot be undersold: the Zinio apps allow some pretty good magazine-style page-flipping.  There is even a thumbnail view which is nigh-on good enough for quick perusal of the entire periodical.  Flip flip flip, and then touch a page to zoom in.  I like this a lot.  It allows us to read magazines much like their dead-tree counterparts.  And it’s far better than reading a magazine on the Kindle.

Plus, there’s no in-app purchasing, meaning that you have to leave the app, load Safari, sign in to Zinio’s website and then make a purchase using your credit card.

So, it’s just like buying books from the Amazon Kindle app?  Which is to say that there is no dedicated bookstore in the Kindle apps at all; it pushes you out to Safari to make your purchases there.  I don’t have a big problem with this.

Incidentally, on the app, the “Shop” tab stays in-app (although it’s slow as molasses).  Perhaps the author used an older version of the app for his review.

There’s no option, that I could find, for deleting a magazine.

The author is spot-on with this one.  Zinio should adopt the Kindle method for this.  Have an “archive” page where you can download/re-download past content.  But what’s on your device is all that should appear.  There also seems to be no way to tell Zinio “I don’t want this… ever!”  Free offerings just sit there… I never asked for VIV magazine, or Car & Driver, or Sporting News Today… why are they so insistent on staying on my Zinio “My Library” screen?

The magazines themselves are just that, magazines. This isn’t Captain Picard’s enhanced edition of Cosmopolitan, just a run of the mill scanned magazine.

The author here needs to do a reality check.  Magazine publishers are not looking for a new way to get their message out.  They’re looking for a new distribution method for their existing product.  New media means new money spent to create it.  If they can get their existing content out for little-to-no additional cost, then they will get on-board.  Once all the publishers are on-board, only then can we start prodding them that a more full-featured digital experience is a benefit.  If we try to tell them now that they need to triple their production cost to get the few hundred people who will subscribe, they’ll label online magazines a failure out-of-hand and never come into the 21st century.

And let’s be honest here.  That Popular Science iPad app is a joke.  Honestly, it’s unbelievably unintuitive.  It must have cost megabux to create it.  It makes no sense.  The content gets totally lost in the format.  And for the life of me, I can’t tell if I will ever get more than just that first issue with the windmill on the cover.  How do I get OUT of that issue to purchase the next one?  Or will that just be another app to purchase later?  Crazy.

The author does concede that there are at least multimedia videos in some of the periodicals.  That’s at least a step in the right direction, no?  Besides, we don’t want these to become so large that we can’t download them over 3G in a few moments, do we?  Already, there are magazines in the Zinio offering that require wi-fi to download.  That’s lame and tethers us to our wi-fi once again.

In the end, the author calls these online magazines “shoddy ‘enhanced’ PDFs",” and he’s not entirely incorrect.  But ebooks are not that much different in that respect, and they’re all the rage right now.  So why all the fuss?  Even shoddy PDFs are far more portable than a stack of old mags in your closet.

In the end, the Zinio apps are a good start.  They need a lot to get them on the road to true nirvana, though.  For instance, most magazines are for consumption and then removal.  You’ll read them once and dump them.  But many magazine readers will tear out articles or keep issues for particular articles in them.  Zinio should allow us to tear out an article (or an ad, because sometimes that’s what we’re interested in) and trash the remainder of the issue.  We should be able to see, at a glance, what we’ve already read, what we haven’t yet read, and what we want to read later.  These sorts of bookmarks would be wonderful.  Search is also a great thing to have.

Ever thought to yourself, “hey, I wanted to upgrade my PC’s memory and there was a great article on it several months ago, somewhere, and I skipped it then because I hadn’t planned on upgrading my memory, but now I do and so now I need that article”?  You know, or something similar?  Wouldn’t it be great to search back periodicals, especially ones in your “archive,” for an article that you need right now?  This is basic computer usability, people.  Search should be standard (I’m looking at you, Kindle app!).

The splash screen should also be dropped from the apps.  We don’t care.  We tapped on the Zinio icon, so we know what’s loading.  And we don’t want to see a little animation; just take us to our mags, please.  Otherwise, it’s like every time we pick up a magazine, we have to stare at the cover for 3-5 seconds and say, “aaahhh.”  We don’t do it for dead-tree periodicals; we shouldn’t have to for the digital versions either.

Finally, Zinio should have Kindle-like syncing.  If I could start a magazine on my iPhone and pick up where I left off on my iPad, consider me sold!

So, in the end, here’s my take.  It’s a good first step.  The publishers are still unclear whether online consumption is worth it.  If we continue to ignore this format, then the publishers will never step down from on-high to embrace the new methods.  So go out, get the free Zinio app for your iPhone and iPad, buy some magazines and let’s send a message that we want our media in this fashion.  Then we can start to grouse about what enhancements we’d like to see.

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