For years, I have been a closet magazine freak. I love magazines, love browsing them, love reading them. But I simply don’t have the space to buy every favourite and keep them around each month, and I hated buying them and then having to throw them out. So for years, I restrained myself. The iPad Zinio app has freed me, and I am having a blast with it.
WHAT IS THE ZINIO APP?
The app is the latest iteration of a Mac/PC/Smartphone magazine platform. It’s been around for years, but I had not heard of it before. You can shop for magazines on their web store and then have them delivered to your various devices electronically.
THE DRM ISSUE
The magazines are in the proprietary .zno format, which seems to be a mucked up PDF. This gave me pause at first; I am a fan of open formats. But a magazine is not timeless, eternal content for me the way a book is, nor it it priced that way. One of the first magazines I bought, Everyday Food, is less than $2 a month. I’m okay with the idea that it might not be mine forever, and I figured out that I could use the iPad’s screenshot feature to save any articles I truly did want to keep.
THE APP EXPERIENCE
When you launch the app, it opens onto a featured content area with several spotlighted articles you can sample for free. You can also use icons at the bottom of the screen to jump to your existing library or to the magazine store (this will launch Safari and take you outside the app).
The magazines look great on the iPad. My first experience was a sample article from National Geographic, and it looked stunning. A simple tap or flick to turn pages, and if the story had a double-page spread, you could rotate the iPad and see the whole thing. For comparison, I tried reading the same article from within the Mac desktop app and found the iPad experience far superior—I couldn’t rotate my Mac screen!
National Geographic is also an enhanced magazine, meaning it has some additional non-print content. One article had a slideshow embedded inside. You could see the little thumbnails as they would look on a printed page, and if you tapped on one, it would blow up into a full-sized high resolution picture. From there you could tap through to watch the other ones in full size before returning to the article.
Another article had a video inside. I have seen embedded video in other apps, such as a Vook app, where it was more a distraction than a feature. But it works for magazine content—the video was relevant, interesting and blended seamlessly with the other content. It definitely added to the wow factor of a magazine like this one, whose selling point is all the gorgeous photography!
There is also an in-app web browser—if an article mentions a URL, you can click on it and bring it up within the app directly. This was very handy as many magazines I read feature product reviews with a URL included. You can click on it and immediately see whatever is mentioned.
The magazine itself is hyper-linked too, so that you can jump from a table of contents page directly to an article, or if an article continues on another page, you can continue reading without missing a beat. When I compare this to a regular PDF file where you have to navigate manually, there is no contest. If having this convenience means reading in their app and enduring the resulting DRM, I am happy to make that concession. I wouldn’t be for a book where such features are not necessary and where the content is less disposable.
You can buy both single issues and subscriptions to most magazines in the store. Prices are quite competitive and on-par with single-issue cover prices and with print subscriptions. On the low end, something like Good Housekeeping can be had for under $10 a year, and on the higher end, the Oprah magazine would set you back $18 Canadian. When you consider that even the Oprah magazine would cost—for an entire year’s worth of issues—about what I would pay for dinner and a movie out, it’s quite a reasonable hobby.
Most common mainstream magazines are represented—Us Weekly, People, Oprah and may popular titles were easy to find. There are also a plethora of specialty categories representing every interest. I would have liked to see more fitness magazines—Shape, Self, Fitness and other titles I searched for could not be found. But I did spend a little and outfit myself for the year. It is just so fun to be reading magazines again!
A few other small points are worth mentioning, First of all, the Zinio magazines, with the rare exception of something specially designed like National Geographic, really are just exports of the print issue. This means you are reading through each page of the issue, ads and all, just like a print magazine. Those who feel that the key to salvation for the journalism industry must involve a re-imagining of what content is and how it is presented may feel that the Zinio app is not the step forward that they were looking for.
Also, some magazines are better presented than others. Following the pinnacle of the National Geographic experience was the let-down of the Food Network magazine. It touted ’50 burgers’ on the cover. When I got to the article, I found a first page introducing the story, and then an arrow that said ‘pull out the special insert’ to see the rest of them. Someone had neglected to digitally include the pull-out insert, so I missed the big cover story. To their credit, Zinio customer support was very responsive when I emailed them and credited me with a free issue. But this sort of mistake really is inexcusable and is not the way to win people over to a digital model.
Overall though, I am very happy with my Zinio experience. It is nice to be able to read a couple magazines a month and not have to deal with the physical paper this would otherwise involve. I like the little navigation extras like the hyper-linked table of contents and the in-app web browser. And I like being able to get a subscription because it saves a lot of money over buying them at full cover price. I think magazines that offer Zinio subscriptions are doing a smart thing and are getting business, like mine, that they would not otherwise have. I hope to see what the future brings for magazines, on the iPad, on the internet, and elsewhere.