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Are Digital Magazine Subscriptions Worth the Price?

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ziniomagazinenewsstandreader_ipadI am a long-time lover of magazines. Some of my favorites include Wired, Fast Company, Business Week and Harvard Business Review (all of which I subscribe to). The question is, would I prefer to source them from the physical or virtual newsstand? There is a lot to consider here–chiefly, the value I feel I get for what I pay and the quality of the experience itself (from buying to reading).

I’ll start by saying this: I actually really like a few of the digital magazines I have tried recently: the iPad versions of both Wired and Business Week are excellent and pioneering. I feel like both of those publications have put a lot of effort into creating something unique in format, features and function. On the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed when I tried to load up my digital subscription (which I paid extra for) through Zinio. I’ll spend a little time talking about what I like and don’t like about the digital subscriptions I have had experience with so far and to make things simple I’ll focus on Wired and HBR.

Wired is my favorite digital magazine subscription, though it isn’t perfect. I love the interactive features such as animations and videos embedded directly within pages. It feels like the evolution of what reading a magazine should be like. On the other hand, I hate the downloading process; it almost never downloads an entire issue without constant, can’t-blink-an-eye-or-it-will-pause supervision. Just recently I knew I’d be riding in a car for 8 hours and tried to get the download completed before I left. I opened the Wired app, started the download and left… apparently my iPad went to sleep or perhaps a piece of dust landed on my iPad in just the wrong way, but the download got less than 1/8th of the way completed. The downloading experience with Wired is my major gripe (and judging by the iTunes comments, it really irks a lot of other folks as well)–other than that, the content, as usual, is superb, as is the design. The digital subscription is pricey, however, at $19.99 per year. Is it truly worth this price? I don’t think I can say yes at this time… I mean, I can find a basement bargain deal price on many of the magazines I love over at SlickDeals–I’m talking like $3 per year. I know a lot of time and manpower goes into making each issue, but maybe the business model needs some work: I mean, The Daily couldn’t make it viable…

Now on to Harvard Business Review and the Zinio experience. HBR costs more than your average magazine does anyways… it always has because it has a brand premium. So, it a way, it makes a bit of sense to pay a little extra for a digital subscription to the content. Unfortunately, there is nothing premium about the digital side of HBR. Instead of a proprietary app like Wired, HBR uses the Zinio platform for digital delivery. Zinio is basically a PDF reader, at least when it comes to reading HBR. There are no embedded extras–nothing to set the experience apart from the print or to seriously justify paying extra to access. Zinio has a few built-in features that are interesting… like hitting “text” at the bottom of the page to reformat the PDF version of the spread you are viewing into a text-only, easier to read format. On the other hand, the design and layout are part of the magazine experience–otherwise, it’s more like a blog that just functions as text-delivery, so chopping that out isn’t exactly “cool.” Whereas Wired automagically adjusts the layout (they design two layouts per spread, one for vertical and one for horizontal reading), HBR through Zinio simply shows either one or two pages depending on how you hold the tablet.  I can say without a doubt that HBR digital feels like a big ripoff… it would be questionable whether or not I’d want to read it digitally if it was free through Zinio. It’s just not tablet-worthy.

So when it really comes down to it, I guess I would say that I WANT to like digital magazines. Wired shows some serious potential and I want to get the content I crave from sources like HBR digitally. For the moment, however, high prices and lackluster viewing experiences are going to keep me from saying that a digital magazine subscription is really worth the price. Some publishers have simply taken to blogging, such as Fast Company and their plethora of digital destinations, as an intermediary step. I’d almost rather prefer the blog approach to the Zinio approach at this point… what would be amazing, and justify the higher prices (in my opinion) is a hybrid of the Wired model with great design and extras and a real-time blogging model with constant updates. Someone needs to make that!

What do you think, are digital magazine subscriptions worth the price?




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