Digital magazines aren't the solution... yet

Published February 17, 2015

Apple Newsstand

I so wanted Newsstand to be the answer. The concept is perfect: digital copies of magazines delivered to my device without me having to a) leave the house/rely on the postal service or b) find space for physical paper.

Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. I started my digital magazine explorations with Zinio, and then moved on to Newsstand when Apple kicked off their version of digital newspaper and magazines. Both do very similar things, allowing you to subscribe to a magazine, or download individual editions, read them on your device and then continue to access them later.

For Newsstand, it feels like it should be a simple process, but everything about it is clunky and uncomfortable. First you subscribe to the magazine itself, just as a title, an entity. The cover appears in your Newsstand and you can go in and out of various titles there - each opening up its own separate app. That’s a pain, because I’m always ending up with heaps of apps open without realising what I’m actually doing. Navigation on Newsstand is not fun.

Then you have downloading (slow), storage (filesizes are huge), management (am I subscribed? do I keep old editions?) and more important than any of the other things: usability. I’ve stumbled across maybe two or three magazines that have made the effort and designed a tablet friendly edition, with moving parts, legible text and good navigation. Total Film is a good example, as it embeds trailers, has covers that move, load and link, and reviews that are scrollable in a variety of interesting ways.

That’s the exception to the rule, though. For the most part, digital magazines tend to be replica copies of their print counterparts, which involves things not fitting on the screen correctly, split page concepts not working at all, and tiny text that requires a lot of zooming in and out as you attempt to read.

As fanatical as we are in my house to rid ourselves of physical things and live in binary wherever possible, magazines are the one thing that has so far beaten us. Physical copies have been creeping back in “because it’s just easier.” It’s frustrating, not because paper is particularly bad, but because the solution is almost there. Almost. But it’s just not ready yet.

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