Reading Print Publications Electronically

By Deane Barker on November 25, 2004

A trend I’ve been seeing lately is distribution of print publications in “reader” software thats presents them just as they were printed. This goes beyond just PDF — entire magazines and newspapers are being pushed to readers with their own software for viewing them.

I tried two such solutions, and they were both quite good.

Zinio: This company distributes magazines with its “Zinio Reader.” The reader displays the pages just as they were printed, complete with page-flipping animations. It’s surprisingly readable, despite the loss of the “straight up-and-down” layout of Web pages. The reader is unobtrusive and straightforward. They have several issues available for free.

Newsstand: New York Times: This company does the same thing as Zinio, but for newspapers. I used a 7-day trial of the New York Times, and it was almost good enough to pay for. I’m cheap, of course, but let me say that I’d pay for this version before the print version. Again, like Zinio, the reader software was easy to work with. At full-screen, two entire pages of the Times appeared side-by-side, with text big enough to scan the headlines, and a little magnifying glass to zoom in on anything I actually wanted to read.

Both systems have automated downloads — they run a scheduled check for new content, and notify you when it’s downloaded. I’ll gladly admit that it was nice to scan through the New York Times every morning when I got to work. There was something…relaxing, about reading a “paper” with no hyperlinks tempting you off the page, or animated banner ads yelling at you. It felt as leisurely as sitting on the living room floor with the paper spread out in front of you.

This would be a great solution for commuters. Set your laptop to download the paper in the wee hours of the morning while you’re connected, then read it on the train on the way to work. Everything is in one big file, so you don’t need a connection.

One more that I didn’t try: NXTBook

While this stuff is cool in its own right, it highlights one of the big problems with the Web: it’s tough to keep your attention on Web content, because the Web is ever-changing and it’s so easy to get distracted. Hyperlinks beckon you on to more content and you know that different…stuff, is just a bookmark click away.

What I found when reading content designed for print, was that I spent more time reading it. I would actually read an entire article, rather than just skim it, and I could actually be semi-contemplative about something, instead of rushing to finish so I could move onto the next thing. There was an unmistakable sense of peace about the entire process that I’ve just never gotten from Web content.

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