A new way to read magazines? Part 1

My recent experience of trying to access and read magazines has been churning over in my mind for the past couple of days. Just flicking through that one issue of the BBC Wildlife magazine last week reawakened my interest in the specialist magazines, and to be honest I miss them. Reading online articles just isn’t the same and I miss the rich reading experience of well written and researched articles, specially commissioned photography and artwork, and appealing page layout and design. But reading paper magazines is beyond me now and will tie up too much of my carers’ time if they had to sit beside me flipping pages and then waiting patiently for me to finish reading. I’ve tried it with both magazines and coffee table books and unless the carer has an interest in the subject it must be boring for them and uncomfortable for me as I feel conscious of how long I am spending staring at each page. Is there another solution? Well, we now live in the age of eBooks so what about eMagazines? How far along are we in their development?

I’ve been doing a bit of digging on the Internet just to see what is currently available and what is in the pipeline. To give you an idea of the kind of things that are currently in the development stage, take a look at these videos which try to preserve the rich and immersive reading experience of a well-designed magazine.

eMagazines are the next logical step for electronic publishing now that the public are starting to embrace the concept of reading novels in electronic form. Like eBooks they offer some compelling advantages. Anybody who has ever bought a few magazines a month and hung on to them will soon realise how much space even a year’s worth occupies. eMagazines of course don’t occupy any physical space or indeed weigh anything (a real plus for travellers and commuters), will not fade with age, and are impervious to damage (clear advantages for those who like to archive their magazines). And for those of us who care anything about the planet we live on they are a green alternative that saves on trees, removes manufacturing and warehouse space, as well as eliminating transportation costs and associated pollution. And all of that excludes the costs of returning and recycling unsold magazines!

With eMagazines it would seem we are on the verge of a similar revolution to the one we are currently experiencing within the paperback/hardback novel industry, where the popularity of eBooks has gained sufficient momentum to achieve mass-market appeal. This is thanks in large part I suspect to the popularity of Amazon’s range of Kindle devices. Now it would seem the magazine industry is about to go the same way although this time it’s Apple’s iPad that is getting all the media attention. An early example of the kind of magazine specifically designed for this platform can be seen below.

However, both the Kindle and iPad are of no use to a quadriplegic. Neither are the solutions currently in development which all rely on touch control using finger gestures. So does that mean physically disabled people will be excluded from this coming revolution? Not necessarily. What I’ve been looking for is another solution, something that doesn’t rely on a mobile device or any kind of physical interaction, but instead can be read directly from a computer screen (in a similar fashion to Amazon’s Kindle reader) and can be controlled by my voice.

My search led me to an interesting website called Zinio that specialises in electronic versions of many popular newsstand magazines. The magazines are visually identical to their paper counterparts, the main difference being of course that you view them on a computer display. From my initial exploration of the online samples it would appear that they lack many of the advanced features of the concepts currently under development (as shown in the videos above). Rather than seeing them as the future of electronic magazines, I suspect what we have here is a sort of hybrid halfway solution; a stepping stone to what will be commonplace in a few years time. Nevertheless for people like me who are really only looking for a way of reading the magazines it could be exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I will reserve final judgement until I’ve fully tested the system and then I will report back in part 2 on the whole reading/user experience. In the meantime here are a collection of screenshots and comments on the various features of the online reader.

This is how a magazine will first present itself when viewed through the online reader. As can be seen the user interface is fairly minimal and nonintrusive with simple controls for moving forward or backward through the pages. There is an option to view in full screen mode and thus remove all other screen clutter but it was easier for me to obtain the screenshots for this post in windowed mode.

The contents page(s) can be accessed at any time via the button at the bottom of the screen. You can navigate directly to each article by clicking on their titles which highlight when the mouse cursor is placed on them.

A filmstrip viewer can be invoked from the bottom of the screen which aids in navigation giving a neat preview of a few of the pages before and after the page being currently viewed. You can jump to any of these pages by clicking on their preview images.

The gallery viewing mode is a neat way of seeing a pictorial representation of the entire magazine simply by using the scroll bar on the right. You can jump to any page by clicking on its thumbnail image.

An example of the readability at full-page magnification in a windowed application (this is not the same as full screen mode).

The magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen allows the page magnification to be customised. Paragraph text seems to scale well indicating that it is not simply part of a bitmap page scan.

Another indication that text is an independent entity from all the various graphical elements is the fact that it is searchable. The word 'fish' has been identified in several pages as can be seen in the search results box to the left which features preview images of each page found to contain the text.

In this magnified image we can see that all is not as it should be. The text in this artwork appears to be an integral part of the illustration (i.e. it is not a separate layer and is therefore not scalable). This would also indicate that the original scanned image is not of sufficient resolution to clearly resolve the text.


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One Response to A new way to read magazines? Part 1

  1. julie kay says:

    Hi Mark, My husband was diagnosed with MND in May of this year after struggling with this horrific disease for 3 yrs he is on a NIV, and now has a chest infection which just isn,t gong away, this is a horrendous disease and more needs to be done to educate not only the general public but GPs and the local health authority, my thoughts are with you.

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