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Magazines not Getting It


I'm busy reading several years' back issues of Practical Boat Owner at the moment (thanks Hugo) and was thinking I should take out a subscription. As well as offering it in dead tree format it's available digitally for you to download. Wow, I thought, that would be cool. Except it's not.

Naively I assumed they would use Adobe/PDF format. Probably with some DRM but at least it would be easily readable on my Linux desktop and laptop and, equally importantly, on my ebook reader. Either that or some other ebook reader compatible format. After all ebook readers are now starting to take a significant chunk of the publishing industry's output.

But no, they're using Zinio. I'd never come across Zinio before but they seem to be quite a big player in the digital magazine marketplace. Their main proposition is that your subscriptions stay on their web site (oh sorry, "in the cloud") and you can read them using their application. There's readers for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Windows.

You can see the problems with that straight away, especially for a boating magazine and particularly for me being a Linux head but, to their credit, they do offer a solution. Sort of. They've got an Adobe Air application which does run on Linux and using it you can download the magazines onto your laptop and then read them offline1.

To try it out I signed up as they offer short free subscriptions to a variety of (American) magazines. Mainly style magazines but they did have PC World so I chose that and installed the application on my netbook.

Blimey does it suck.

  • it's slow - rendering pages takes long enough that you get bored (it probably works just fine on their quad core desktops but this is a dual core 1.6MHz netbook).
  • there's no feedback, so for example to turn a page you click on the edge of the page. And nothing happens. There's absolutely no feedback. No acknowledgement that it's seen a click. The mouse doesn't change to the waiting icon. Nothing.
  • in "full" page view it crops the bottom of the page.
  • the drag scrolling meme we're all used to now for this sort of thing doesn't work.
  • although you can scroll up and down using the scroll wheel if you want to scroll right you have to zoom out to full page view and then zoom in to the new position on the page.

So it's clunky, slow and not intuitive. Moreover there seems to be no search function at all (not that I could find anyway), and you can't copy and paste text out of articles, so the merit of having the magazine digitally is lost.

And of course there's no way of putting this on any ebook reader.

So they lose. It's a shame as with PDF format Adobe offer a perfectly good platform for doing this, with DRM as they seem to insist on having that, which is cross platform compatible but instead they've got for a horribly clunky and closed solution.

  1. They also offer a Flash based reader but that only works online.

Tags: books, linux, sailing, websites Written 04/12/10

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