Monday, December 22, 2014

Never Let Your Magazine Run Dry (part two): The Digital Age

Where's part one?  Where else but here?

It's taken me until now, but I've finally entered the Digital Age, insofar as magazines are concerned.  Parenthood leaves us with little free time/cash to run out and buy my monthly fix, and now that Canada Post has stopped home delivery to our neighbourhood, I am loathe to subscribe to physical media.  So, to say I've not been keeping up with developments in certain areas of interest would be both an understatement and an awkwardly-worded sentence.

I thought to myself, "CJ, this is a new era of information distribution.  Are magazines even a thing anymore?"

"If by a thing you mean tangible, viable method of delivery and presentation," I answered, "then yes, they are.  If you take a thing to be a way of saying something still in fashion with the public at large, give your head a shake and stop using millenial slang."

Semantics notwithstanding, I had a point (as I usually do).  This is indeed a new era of distribution, so in theory the Internet should be able to serve as a suitable replacement drug for my magazine dependence.  After all, most (if not all) the magazines I read have a presence on both the Web and social media, and through social media I'm also able to follow the writers, designers, architects, and commentators who write for these magazines.

After a year of following along on the web and various social media platforms, I'm both over- and underwhelmed.

As most of my friends and longtime readers know, I have a wide variety of interests, and accordingly  have social media feeds that are large and diverse... so large and diverse that it's overwhelming.  Total information overload, and totally unorganized.  If a particular topic is trending on Twitter, minor unrelated topics and posts get lost in the flood!  Facebook isn't much better, with occasional bits of interest lost in the deluge of memes, quizzes, and related crap.

I find Google+ to be the best social media platform for organizational purposes, as I have everything organized into "circles" which I can turn on and off at will.  It certainly helps cut down on clutter and helps keep things readable, but is sometimes lacking in content... of the magazines/writers I follow, I estimate only 60% have Google+ accounts.  It's really too bad, as I (personally) find Google+ to be a superior product all around.  (CJ's note:  No, I'm not a shill for Google.  Money could change that, however... hint hint!)

Once I got a handle on my feeds, things went smoothly... but even with things under control, browsing social media feeds just wasn't the same as sitting back in my easy chair & thumbing through a magazine.  Call me old-fashioned, but the social media experience left me wanting.

So, being the proud owner of an Android-powered e-reader (my old Kobo Vox) and a relatively recent Android Smartphone, I decided to take the plunge and try one o' them new-fangled magazine subscription apps.  I started with Zinio.

I like Zinio. I really like it.  In fact, it might become my platform of choice.  Their magazine selection is good (they carry all but two of the design magazines I buy), the pricing is decent, they offer daily subscription deals, their Android app is good, and most importantly, they carry offshore/foreign magazines as well.  I've been using Zinio for a couple of months now, and have no serious complaints.  I receive notification as soon as my next issues are ready for download, and it's pretty seamless.  My only real complaint is that the Zinio app is a bit slow on my Kobo Vox... but then the Vox is about six years old and a bit slow-running at the best of times.  When my Vox crashed last week and took all my content with it, I was able to re-download all my old purchases without issue.

Another app I've tried is Issuu, whose website I discovered whilst searching for urban cycling magazines.  The thing I love about Issuu is that they have a number of free, self-produced/published 'zines (with the means to publish and distribute your own!) in addition to their commercial paid content.  I've only been a "customer" for six days, and so far I am impressed with what they offer.

There's also Next Issue (which has been promoted heavily on TV), but I haven't seriously checked it out yet.  Content-wise, they mostly have on offer magazines distributed by Rogers Media in Canada, some of which I've subscribed to in the past via their door-to-door package promotions.  You pay a monthly "subscription" fee ($9.99 regular, $14.99 for magazines deemed premium) but get to read an unlimited amount of magazines.  Reading their FAQ, magazines can be saved permanently to your device for later (offline) reading, but no word on whether or not you can re-download older content should your device crash and you lose everything.  I might give their 30-day free trial a whirl and report back in the next installment.

Reading on my Kobo Vox is acceptable but not great; it's 7-1/2" screen is better suited for e-books than full-size, full-colour magazines.  The zoom feature in the Zinio app is good (although slow on the Vox).  Reading on my phone (a Samsung Galaxy S4) is faster but the experience suffers because of the phone's smaller screen size.  However, I'm looking to upgrade to a full-size Android tablet in the coming months, so that won't be an issue much longer.

So, I've found my solution in the magazine app.  With a full-size tablet, the experience will be almost like reading a real, proper magazine... minus the papercuts and dozens of subscription cards/product information cards falling out.

The downside is that digital magazines are less suitable for killing bugs or lining a bird cage...

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On another note, it's great to be blogging again.  I've really missed it.



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