Paperless Magazines

One of the items on my inventory of paper was magazines.

I am largely addicted to them. I have three paper subscriptions and six digital subscriptions. Plus I purchase a few every month from the newsstand.

My hope is that being paperless means that somehow I can get through these information pieces more efficiently and effectively.

A good example of this is my books. I have been an e-book guy for six years. I love having the world’s entire book collection at my fingertips, available anytime anywhere.

However, magazines seem different. Therefore, using a few days vacation as my test environment, I started a paperless journey to see how to best enjoy paperless magazines.

Digital Subscriptions

There are dozens of services offering digital subscriptions to periodicals, ranging from consumer magazines to specialty publications to academic journals.

This specific journey is focused on turning my consumer-magazine habit into a paperless experience. To that end, I tried three different platforms.


I first entered into the world of digital magazines in June of 2010, with the rollout of a new service called Zinio ( It promised hundreds of titles that could be purchased at a fraction of the cost of a paper-based subscription, delivered over the internet every month.

They delivered on that promise.

There are over 6,000 titles available in 33 languages, serving over 10 million customers (according to their website).

My experience has been that subscriptions are generally 50% – 70% less than the equivalent paper subscription.  I have a few titles that are $10 per year. Nice.


A recent competitor in Canada is Texture, by Next Issue. It is a service that provides access to over 150 weekly and monthly magazines for a monthly subscription fee – kind of like Spotify for magazines. Unfortunately for me, Texture does not offer all of the specialty magazine titles I read such as Mountain Bike Action, Flying and Velonews. Therefore I am staying with Zinio for now.


Issuu is a publishing platform for those magazines offered free to readers. The service houses an extensive catalogue of smaller publications, but offers tons of interesting reading. It also provides a platform for single-issue publications, catalogues, and other free-to-read offerings. Again, it doesn’t have my favorite titles, so I am back to Zinio.


The Experiment

I truly love sitting on a couch flipping through a magazine.

There is something wonderful about cruising through the photos while pausing to read a short passage, or perhaps digging into a full article. The experience is one of discovery, as the magazine slowly reveals its rich buffet of photos, articles, and tidbits.

So the question becomes, can you get that same experience digitally?

My answer is yes, but it all depends on your reading device.


The Underlying Issue: Magazine Layout and Detail

mags01I am a bit of a nerd.
My magazine collection includes titles like Flying, Sound & Vision, Bike, Dwell, and Esquire. These magazines contain a ton of photos, often across a two-page spread, and usually with small bits of text embedded.

mags02To test out the various devices, I wanted to have two test pages: a 2-page spread and a 1-page classic magazine page.
For the 2-page spread, I turn to page 30 of the May 2016 issue of Sound & Vision magazine. It is a classic photo-laden, text-rich, two-page spread. This is the worst-case scenario for digital reading, so it is my 2-page test page.

I also want to try a classic 1-page photo/text style page to see how that looks. Page 17 has the size of text that is typical in magazines, so it makes a great single-page test page.

Text combined with photos are tough to present digitally. There are so many device options, each with benefits and limitations.

So let’s dig into the various platforms.


The Devices


mags0304I start with the smallest device, but the one usually within reach: the smartphone. There are reading tools for iOS and Android. So I load them up and see how it works.

The Double Page test is awful. Totally unreadable.

However, the Zinio smartphone reader uses a button called Text to remove the images and formatting, just presenting the text on the page:

This works really well in a pinch. So if I am standing in line at the bank, I can browse the text of my magazines easily, however I lose the photos. Not ideal.

The same thing happens with the single page in portrait mode. It is unreadable as a magazine page, but readable in the text mode.



mags06Laptops seem more promising. I am on my laptop more than most of my devices, besides my smartphone.

My Dell laptop has a very high-res screen, so that seemed to be a good start. I should not lose any detail of text or photos. The problem is that laptops have a widescreen display – so you end up reading in widescreen mode all of the time.
My test page looked beautiful from a distance, but the embedded text was unreadable. Nice for photo spreads, not so good if there is text on the page. The Zinio reader allows you to click an area of text to zoom in. It makes it readable, but the browsing experience loses flow. You click into text, read it, then click back out to the full page. Not ideal.



Firing up my tablet, I was anxious to see how the whole thing came together.  Tablets seem like couch-ready devices and magazines seem like the perfect content for the tablet.

In widescreen / landscape mode, I had the same problem with my tablet as I had with my laptop. I can see the whole spread, but I can’t read it without zooming in.


But turning the tablet to portrait mode made all the difference in the world.  I could see the photos and read the text. Perfect!
The only downside is that for two-page spreads, you only get to see one half of the spread at a time, so you lose the impact of a full high-gloss 2-page spread. I feel for the designer who’s labor went into putting together this two page spread, only to have my device cut it in half. It just doesn’t seem right!

I tried the pages on 7- and 9-inch tablets, but the text was too small and unreadable. Again, resorting to click, zoom, read, click, browse, click, zoom, read, click…..

The 10-inch and 12-inch tablets were excellent. I could read the text on all of the pages in the magazine.


The Big Screen

mags10So while testing paperless magazines on vacation, the best I could do was to read 1 page at a time. However, I wanted to replicate the experience of reading a full 2-page spread – something the mobile devices could not provide.

So when I got home, I tested reading my digital magazines on my big screen. I opened Zinio on a 42″ 4K television. The screen resolution was 3840 X 2160. Ooohhh. Nice. I am a total pixel junkie. More pixels equals more happiness.
Here is what I experienced:

My magazine in full 4K glory! Unbelievably rich, sharp, and …. huge! Even bigger than the paper-based version. It is like someone took my favorite magazine and made it into a widescreen movie!



The Final Results

Digital magazines have all of the benefits of e-books. They are less expensive, easy to purchase, always up to date, never get lost in the mail and arrive on time. You can carry hundreds of current and back issues on your device. You are never without reading.

The downside is that the paperless magazine experience is entirely dependent on the device you choose to host your magazines.

  • Smartphones are good for searching text, and that is about it. So if you want to reference last week’s issue of The Economist for some valuable insight, you can do that on your phone.
  • Laptops are about the same. Good for searching and referencing, but not so good for browsing through a magazine. The widescreen landscape format of the display means that you are always showing pages too small to read.
  • Tablets are wonderful because you can flip it into portrait mode and read a full single page of the magazine without zooming in (assuming a 10-inch tablet or larger). The downside is that you lose the 2-page spread. Looking through my May 2016 issue of Sounds & Vision, there were only four 2-page spreads out of 75 pages in the magazine. So depending on the layout of the magazine, most of your reading should be fine in single-page mode.
  • Finally, the big monitors offer the best overall experience. Huge photos and text make the experience even better than a paper magazine! Especially as my eyes get older. The downside is that your magazine experience becomes a desk experience, not a couch experience.


Last Words

Digital magazines have not yet caught on with a mass audience. I can understand why. Every digital experience has a downside that paper magazines do not. Half-pages, small pages, click-to-zoom, desk-based reading. It is all downside from the paper-based solution.

For me, I am going to continue experimenting with digital magazines. I like the low cost, the digital delivery, and the any-magazine-anywhere-anytime paradigm.

One last interesting point to make is that I am way behind on my reading and perhaps this is a sign of the downside of digital magazines. I will take the next month to catch up and see how well I can enjoy the experience. I am not giving up my paper magazine subscriptions just yet, but perhaps if I catch up on my digital subscriptions, I will take the final plunge and go all-in.

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