Apropos of the article I blogged yesterday about the opportunities the iPad presents for publishing, now Mike Masnick at TechDirt looks at plans to put Sports Illustrated and Wired on tablets such as the iPad and asks the question, “Why wouldn’t these forms of content also work on the web?”

As Masnick points out, there is nothing inherent to the idea of an electronic version of a magazine that would prevent it from working on a plain desktop or laptop PC. But it does seem that a lot of magazine and newspaper publishers have gone “tablet crazy” lately, up to and including designing their own tablet devices.

Perhaps it has to do with the old saw that people don’t like to read on the computer, and it took the development of some new hardware that wasn’t quite a computer but wasn’t as limited as an e-reader before publishers started taking the idea seriously.

There is also some discussion in the comment thread that suggests other reasons: the delivery control Apple’s closed iPad environment offers, for example.

Regardless, it would be nice if these tablet magazine formats could also be backported to work on the web, or at least have versions available for the PC.


  1. A couple of years ago, I had several magazine subscriptions through Zinio. It provides the closed system that you mention the iPad providing. The reading experience itself was pretty good. I have a large LCD monitor. I could show two pages and flip through the magazine, almost as if it was the real thing. I could also take the magazines with me on my laptop and read them while I traveled.

    The issue that brought this to an end was convenience, not the reading experience. Having to sit at my PC, or dig my laptop out, wait for it to boot and then find an only marginally comfortable way to view it (lap, tray table on a plane, etc.) destroyed the experience altogether.

    I recently purchased a netbook and since then, thought about trying Zinio again. If I had been smarter, I would have purchased a netbook with a hinge that allowed the screen to flip all the way around to the back, almost turning it into a tablet. This might have made Zinio workable again, though I would still have to wait for the OS to boot.

  2. I also tried Zinio, but with a laptop with a standard-sized screen. The part of the experience I didn’t enjoy was the fact that the page, when fit on-screen, was unreadable. I had to expand the page beyond the screen dimensions to read any text, which meant scrolling down, then up to the next column, and down and up, down and up… not a smooth reading experience. Then Zinio actually sold my subscription to Texterity, and IMO, the experience got worse. I cancelled the subscription afterward.

    The quality of the experience is key. Magazine producers look at tablets because they will provide the closest experience to reading a magazine in your hands… not easily done with a notebook. Tablets represent portability and superior screen size, so mag producers gravitate to them. But they need to be concerned with more than that.

    Improving readability using Flash or some similar technology (instead of static pages that require expansion to be readable) is also key, and the iPad/Adobe promo (as well as the Bonnier video design promo at

    ) illustrate the benefit of moving beyond PDFs and static pages to an appropriately web-centric format.

    A proper design would allow any web-capable device to read the content comfortably. So we don’t need the iPad, or even tablets… smartphones, PDAs, PCs, what-have-you should work.

  3. I echo the comments you mentioned: Apple’s closed-off system is a major plus. For years newspapers and magazines have been tempted to put up paywalls on the web, but so far results have been poor for those who have. About the only success I can think of is Wall St. Journal.

    People look on the web the same way they look on over the air radio or TV: ‘it should be free and I’m not about to pay for it.’

    Going through Apple is going through a vendor/partner with a proven track record of getting people to pay for content. Music, TV shows, movies (not so much, there).

    Amazon’s Kindle has also shown success in this; I recall a blurb I read a while ago stating that Wall St Journal was making $4-5 million US every year through Kindle subscriptions.

    We also have to add the discomfort of (continuing) sitting at the computer for (more) hours.

    And I must add anecdotally that I feel different reading with a small tablet (Nokia N800 in my case). Somehow I have more patience for long reads with that thing in my hand or lap, than I do with my laptop set up on the desk in the office.

    – asotir

  4. I agree that scrolling through a zoomed in page and having to move up and down columns isn’t ideal. I should have put that in my laptop concerns.

    A couple of days ago, I tried Zinio on my iPhone. A positive review pointed me to it. It overcomes some of the zooming issue by allowing you to look at the full page and then, instead of zooming in to read, you can pull up only the article text, reformatted for the iPhone screen. You only have to scroll down to read the entire article. It’s not perfect, but it made me consider trying a subscription again.

  5. Chris- This is not very complicated. It is MUCH more comfortable to read a magazine sitting in an easy chair or couch, reading it on your lap/hands like a real magazine. AND, if you put it on the web, you really won’t be able to charge for it. At least with the ereaders- people are accustomed to paying for content.

    Altough i do NOT believe that the iPad will be a big book reader, it will be excellent for newspapers, magazines and comic books, etc.

  6. what all of the other commenters are saying. my laptop weighs like 12 lbs, and heats up unacceptably. magazine reading is a leisure activity. which invokes an image of reclining on a couch-like thing to read/browse. true leisure really doesn’t involve holding a hot anchor in one’s lap, or sitting erect in an office chair.

    um. and if ‘leisure reading on the computer’ really was a quality experience, i’d have already been doing it for the last 15 years.

    yes, i’d rather read the NYT online than make a run to the store to buy the current issue. but that doesn’t mean i’d choose to read it online over other options.

    this said, i have no immediate plans to acquire an iPad. if it ever develops to where it could really be a laptop replacement, i will reconsider.

  7. AND, if you put it on the web, you really won’t be able to charge for it.

    Sure you can: Content can still be locked behind password-protection or some other sort of ID verification (think biometric), and sold as a subscription or single-purchase product (with loss-leader content given for free on the public pages). That’s why any web-based device can be a magazine reader, given the right design and layout of the content.

  8. If Apple came to me and said they’d give me a lot of publicity if I’d promise to come up with a fancy app for the iPad, you can bet I’d promise to come up with a fancy app for the iPad. I agree that there’s nothing about the iPad that makes it a unique platform for delivering magazine (or any) content. Sure the form factor is nice, but there are a lot of people who won’t buy an iPad no matter how nice the form factor.

    Bottom line, I’m sure there are some in the biz who think Apple means it’ll be easier to monetize than if they just put their content on the web. But I suspect a lot are just riding the current iPad hype.

    Rob Preece

  9. Steve- the reason I said you won’t be able to charge for it is not logistics but practicalities. Ebook reader owners are accustomed to paying for content- not so with web sites. So, the resistance to getting paying customers for magazine/ newspaper websites is very high. Not that it can’t be done.

    And don’t use business on line websites like the Wall Street Journal as an answer. They only thrive with paying content because as a business wexpense it is tax deductible.

  10. Richard: I agree, there is resistance to paying for web content. But I believe that this resistance can be overcome with the right content, at the right price. And if you want a non-business example, okay, here’s one: Porn sites.

    These sites offer some free content as an incentive for paying for more exclusive content… exactly the strategy a magazine site needs to take. The trick is to find the right balance of free-vs-exclusive content, at the right price, in order to attract the most customers. It may not be easy, as it hasn’t been accomplished in many places outside of porn… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and I’m sure it will be done.

    Another example: Cable TV. There used to be resistance to being forced to connect a cable to your TV set to get premium content, and not being allowed to share it with your neighbors by running your own lines. But the public largely got over that, through a combination of desire for premium content, willingness to pay the offered price for it, and refusal to risk loss of that content (by being discovered illegally sharing it).

    These same basic tools can be applied to any paid service, including online magazine subscriptions or individual issue purchases. It just takes the effort to work out the details that will make it successful.

  11. The point about e-magaines needing a tablet should be changed to all magazines and news papers need a tablet. Whether it be the iPad, Kindle, or any other e-reader tablet device, print pubications have been suffering and this can be the way out. The publishers can still sell ads and still offer the same content but in a form that is digital and disposable without making more trash or recycling piles. I have written an article about this subject as well and would invite anyone interested to stop and take a look. You can find my E-subscriptions article on Hub Pages here

  12. It’s true that the launch of the iPad and the promise of further tablet based devices has definitely woken publishers up. It seems that the hype that the iPad has generated seems to have turned the big wigs onto a revenue stream that has already existed in online form for some time.

    I’m still not sure that this will be the way forward for the digital magazine medium. Although initial sales of iPads have been encouraging, the cost of the device and the it’s effective lack of purpose will limit the number of users in the long term and when you compare the number of iPad owners with the number of people who own a PC, MAC or laptop, it’s clear that there’s still a massive market to target within standard computer users. I think there needs to be some form launch to shake up this market, perhaps a rival to Zinio or a revolutionary new way of reading?

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