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New Approach to Electronic Magazines


September 1, 2002
By Pulp & Paper Canada

As we all know, the 1980’s predictions of the demise of paper as a communications medium has not come to pass. However, various alternatives to paper continue to surface, and of course some have caugh…

As we all know, the 1980’s predictions of the demise of paper as a communications medium has not come to pass. However, various alternatives to paper continue to surface, and of course some have caught on, such as e-mail replacing most letters, and on-screen forms replacing many paper forms.

Various electronic forms of popular magazines have been around for a few years, including Time magazine and TAPPI’s Solutions! Some require a subscription to read, while others are freely available. I have no data on the extent to which Time’s free electronic offering has cut into paper magazine sales, but it is clear that TAPPI’s venture into electronic publishing has cut paper use. Time magazine text is pretty well complete on their web site at www.time.com, and www.timecanada.com but while our very computer-active family of four reads the paper magazine cover-to-cover, nobody browses the electronic version.

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Most of the electronic magazines I have seen present articles individually, either as PDF files (like TAPPI’s Solutions!) or as web pages. However, a new, friendlier and more efficient approach has been taken by PC magazine and a dozen affiliated monthly and weekly journals. They use the Zinio reader (available free on the web at www.zinio.com) A magazine produced this way is variously referred to as an “electronic edition”, “digital replica” or being for “digital delivery”.

The digital replica presents the magazine as a live “color photocopy” of every page of the paper version. You can turn pages with the click of the mouse or the “page down” key. Of course, the table of contents page is live, and you can jump to it with a mouse-click, then pick your article, finding it more quickly than you could on paper. You could print it all, but there would be no point.

On my 1 GHz Pentium laptop, new double-pages appear in about half a second, rather fuzzy, but readable, and improve to full resolution in three seconds. On my 15-inch screen, with 1600 x 1200 pixel resolution, the text is clearly readable at normal distance, although slightly smaller than a normal newspaper. On my 20-inch CRT monitor, which is ten years old and getting a bit fuzzy, the text is, of course, larger but is not so easy to read. It is easy enough to zoom in, producing large crystal-clear text, but as all computer users know, it is rather aggravating to have to scroll sideways and vertically to read a document through a window.

On a monitor with lower resolution, such as the very popular 1024 x 768 super VGA format, it is necessary to zoom in to read comfortably. On a lower resolution screen, the magazine would be pretty well useless in its electronic form.

A full issue of PC magazine, 174 pages, requires about 18 Mb of disc space. This represents very clever technology, since most software would require five to 20 times as much space for 174 detailed, colour pages. Even at 18 Mb, the file would have been too large for most people five years ago, but with current hard discs of 40Gb being common, this is quite reasonable. You could store four years worth of the magazine in a gigabyte.

PC magazine, and some others, offer the electronic subscription at the same price as the paper version, but you have to pay twice if you want both.

You can ask for a free copy to be sent to a friend, but I was not able to find a way to send an interesting article to someone else, other than printing it and faxing or scanning the print copy. Even that is inefficient, since the printed copy has a grey background, which would scan or fax poorly. It is quite reasonable for the magazine to protect their copyright, but it would be convenient, and I think reasonable, to be able to e-mail a couple of pages. Zinio have advised that the ability to send pages from the magazine through e-mail will be incorporated in a future version.

Zinio.com has a competitor, NewsStand.com, but I have not explored it.

ADVANTAGES OF THE

ELECTRONIC EDITION

The electronic edition is searchable, so it is easy to find an article that you have only a vague recollection of having seen, by looking for a word that is likely unique, or nearly so.

You can add notes to any page, or highlight text in yellow, for your own use, but I was not able to find a way to print the notes or highlights.

It takes less space to store back issues than on paper. I normally keep about two feet of bookshelf of back issues, recycling the older ones as new ones arrive. This is more than enough, since a computer magazine two years old is of historical interest only. If I continue with the electronic version of my subscription, some space will be saved in the office.

Most importantly, the electronic version is easier to carry and read while traveling than the paper one.

For magazine subscribers who have to pay supplemental charges for overseas delivery, the electronic editions are much less expensive, but for most of us, the price is equal for paper or electronic versions.

A THREAT TO PAPER CONSUMPTION

Yes, but not for a couple of years. The software is good, and delivery by the Internet arrives earlier than by Canada Post, but user hardware is currently a major obstacle.

Not many people have screens with good enough resolution to read the magazine comfortably, but this will change as high quality LCD screens become cheaper.

The major breakthrough required to make electronic books and magazines popular is the tablet computer, where the whole machine is the size of a 15-inch laptop screen, with a few buttons on the side to navigate, and a completely separate keyboard that can be ignored for reading in a comfortable chair or bed. These devices are now available, but are not well developed. A number of new models are scheduled for release late this year, and Microsoft’s most recent release of Windows has some features to standardize and improve tablet computer performance. I believe that they will become popular.

Other computer formats may emerge, such as very large LCD screens that can be viewed in the living room like a TV. The resolution of current TV screens is far below than that required for electronic magazines and newspapers.


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