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Digital Magazines

Managing (Digital) Magazines

As I’ve mentioned in many posts already, I’m a big consumer of magazines. I’ve been a regular subscriber of various magazines since I was probably around 9 or so. For a long time I would keep every magazine I got. It got to the point that during moves I would have several boxes, just of magazines. I loved having this massive back log of information and great articles sitting on my shelves. One of my first wood working projects (which turned out horrible, I might add) was a magazine rack.

The thing is, I rarely ever actually went back to re-read any of these magazines. This was actually for two reasons. 1. I had plenty of new stuff to read and 2. Even when I wanted to go back and find some piece of information, I would invariably forget which issue it was actually in. I would often have a decent guess, so if I really need the information for some reason I would end up going through a dozen or so magazines, flipping through and trying to find the article again. This wasn't bad in and of itself, it could be fun remembering various bits and looking at the pictures again, but it certainly slowed my attempts to find the information I was after.

My next solution was to rip out the articles I was interested in and file them by magazine title, and this led to the first great recycling purge. I still kept a few titles for nostalgic reasons, but the vast majority got ripped up and the hauled off to recycling. This was somewhat better. Now so long as I could remember the magazine there was much less to go through, but on the other hand, without the issue and those iconic covers, it was also just a little bit harder to try and figure out where in the stack what I was looking for might be.

Eventually it got to the point where I would just read a magazine and end up recycling the whole thing, even if there was something interesting in it, and with the explosion of the internet, if I could remember the key phrases, and it was from an issue at least 2 months back (give or take, depending on publisher) I could probably find the article again just through google and pull it up on the company's website. A couple publishers would put up a PDF of the magazine after it passed “x” months, and I would download these, though search has never been a strong suit of PDFs.

I was a long time hold out for physical magazines, I still prefer them, actually. Magazines are a visual medium, and so often those images are meant to be seen across the "spread," a full two pages. Unless you're using a massive screen device this just doesn't translate to digital well. The tipping point for me was when one of my favorite magazines (Linux Journal) went digital only. Now I didn’t have a choice. There are a ton of options when it comes to digital magazines, which is quite annoying. One of the primary benefits at this point is just price. Often a digital subscription will be half the cost of a physical subscription. Many digital newsstands also tend to have sales and discounts from time to time too.

A few magazines have their own apps or PDF style subscriptions where you get a link every month to download the latest issue. The two mobile juggernauts (apple and google) also have their own digital newsstand apps. Then you have options such as kindle which has a pretty decent selection of magazines, as well as specific digital magazine networks. The most prominent of the latter would be Zinio.

Linux Journal, as I mentioned, went digital only and I started reading them through iOS’s newsstand app, but I also got the PDF downloads for my computer. It’s now been several years since I’ve actually used the iOS application, so I can’t comment on its current abilities, but at the time one of the biggest lacking features, for me, was bookmarks. I have to imagine this has changed, since it’s such an obvious requirement of any magazine reading application.

As I started reading more and more digital magazines I first got pretty heavily invested in Zinio’s platform. The great thing about Zinio was that I could read the magazines on nearly any device, and I have a wide mix of platforms. You could also get those all important bookmarks. For the downside, progress and bookmarks would not sync between devices. If I bookmarked a magazine on my Samsung tablet and then then continued reading the magazine on an iPad not only would it have no idea where I was in the magazine, but that bookmark would not appear. You also couldn’t search your bookmarks. Zinio almost always has the cheapest price for any subscription I’ve ever looked for, and if they don’t it’s usually at least the same as everywhere else. Zinio also often has sales, 20% your first year, etc etc.

I used Zinio pretty much exclusively for several years, but those limitations led to some frustrations. I also had some weird billing issues. Twice all my magazines disappeared from the system entirely and I had to contact support. I would also buy subscriptions when they would go on sale, and usually it would just add to my existing subscription (left 6, + 12 new = 18 remaining, perfect!), as makes sense. Sometimes I would be charged but it wouldn’t have any effect at all, sometimes it would extend a subscription to 1 year (6 remaining + 6 new = 12 total, boo!) and a couple times I ended up with more than one subscription to the same title (I believe I had 3 active subscriptions to MaximumPC at one point).

To get around the non-syncing bookmarks I would have one “primary” device. I would read the magazine on any platform (huge plus!) and if I bookmarked something I would, every so often, open the app on the primary device, open it on whatever I had read and had bookmarks on, then go to those issues/pages on the primary and bookmark it there, then deleted it from the secondary device(s). Annoying, to say the least.

The breaking point came when I wanted to upgrade my primary device. I downloaded the app and spent literally days going through, downloading each magazine with a bookmark, finding the pages, and re-bookmarking it on the new device. I did this and thought, there has to be a better method.

Which brings us to what my current solution is. I now buy my digital magazines wherever I can find it cheapest. This is annoying in that if I want to read my Plane & Pilot magazine, for example, I must be on a google device since I have that subscription through google play (and, of course, remember it's on google). When I find something I want to bookmark I go through and screenshot each page of the article. Then, about once a month or so, I will transfer these screenshots into evernote. I know there was a bit of a fallout with evernote recently over privacy, (though they did attempt to address these concerns) along with rising prices, have turned many off to the service. The point is not to use evernote, but any evernote type system (one note?) you want. What you want to do is get them all into something else that does sync and, even more important, includes an OCR feature (this is critical). This means that when I take those screenshot images and add them to a note their service does its thing and makes all those words searchable. I read a lot of food related magazines and this is particularly useful when looking for recipes. If I remember one of the many magazines had a good recipe for carrot cake I can search all my notes for “carrot cake” and the ORC magic will be able to find the articles that had those words. There might be a couple, but now I’ve got a couple notes with a thumbnail of the first page and can find what I’m looking for quite quickly.

So, that’s it. That’s my secret to managing over a dozen magazine subscriptions on at least 4 different platforms. I take what I want out of those platforms and put them into a searchable repository. This also works for my remaining physical subscriptions. Just like in the days of yore I’ll cut out the pages I want, scan them in with my scanner and add them into evernote just like the screenshots. I have 3 magazines that I pass on to my in-laws, in which case I don’t want to pull out pages. For these I will take a picture with my phone. This works less great, but mostly works. The inherit bend in the page makes it difficult for the scan apps to properly flatten them. Now I get to keep all those great articles I’m actually interested in, and have quick access and search to find them again.

This is my current solution, and it may (OK, almost assuredly will) get updated yet again as technology improves. I’m interested in what other people use to manage their growing digital library of magazines, let me know in the comments!