Magazines: Paper vs Digital – Fight!

BRMsPhil:  On a whim last week, I bought the electronic copy of the magazine I write for. The paper copy would eventually appear in the post but the digital version comes out a few days before this and I was curious to know how some of the articles I’d written appeared on the page. There was also a bit of extra content to be seen electronically and I was really interested in comparing the two versions.

Delivered via the PocketMags website, downloading the digital version takes around a minute over broadband and WiFi. Cost is £2.99 compared to £3.75 for print. I’ve loaded my copy on to an Asus 7 inch tablet computer although I understand I can log on to the site and see the issues I’ve bought on any device. The copy seems sit on the tablet as I was still able to read it when disconnected from WiFi.

The pages appear exactly the same as they do on paper. Swiping left and right moves you through the issue. Touching the bottom of the screen shows a ribbon of thumbnails for faster racing around. Pinching the page zooms in in the same way as it does on all other Apps.

Enhanced content includes a couple of videos, photo galleries and captions that are called up by pressing an “i” button on the image. Not sure about the later one but I suppose it leaves the pictures clearer of text.

So, am I convinced to go digital?

No.

One of the problems is that when looking at magazines, size matters. My tablet is about 2/3rd the size of the A4 printed page. Reading the mag involves squinting or zooming on the page. Maybe if I was using a 10 inch iPad or even a proper computer screen, this wouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, the iPad is heavy to hold for long periods and the PC screen means sitting at a desk.

Discussing this in the office, we also feel that readers engage with the content differently on-screen. They treat it like a web page and scan the words rather than reading them. It’s a less immersive experience perhaps, or just this is how people have learned to deal with screen based information. Plenty of useability studies tell us this is how web pages are consumed, hence the instruction to include plenty of keywords in text to catch the reader’s eye. You might think that when reading a publication, readers might behave differently but this appears not to be the case. I suspect this might be related to the size issue. If reading takes effort, they you’ll skim the content.

Of course, if you don’t want to read but just look at pictures then the tablet is good. Zooming in to the detail is easy. OK, in print the pics are bigger and I suppose in the analogue world you can use a magnifying glass but that’s not convenient and anyway, eventually you start seeing how the picture is printed and not the pic itself. Our photographer reckons the reproduction on the page is darker than the electronic version although this is a reproduction issue and not a deliberate choice, nor is it necessarily a bad thing as some readers comment they prefer darker photos.

Another thought is that a lot of the magazine involves “how to” articles with step-by-step information for readers to follow. That’s the bit I write and I’m not convinced that reader want to take a pricy tablet near some of the plaster, paint and glues I use in the articles. Paper magazines are far more resilient in this respect. At least if you glue the pages together , you can buy another copy from Smiths, “I dropped it in some plaster and not it’s stopped working.” isn’t likely to garner you much sympathy in your local electronics shop.

All of this is moot. While the digital edition sells well, the paper one sells better. All expectations are that this will be the case for over a decade so the presses will continue to roll. Mind you, predicting the future is difficult…

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