Zinio. Trees Will Thank You.

Last night I began the conversion of all magazine subscriptions from paper to pixels. A couple of months ago as my subscriptions began to lapse,  I decided to start replacing them with digital versions using Zinio for the iPad.

The decision was pretty simple, no more paper, no more waiting for them to arrive in the mail, no more recycling, in some cases lower subscription costs, and in the case of magazines like National Geographic, a better experience thanks to interactivity, video and audio that is embedded in the magazine.

This is something that just works well for periodicals, the experience is in many ways better, and while not all of the magazines I subscribe to have made their pages available through Zinio, more and more are. As they do I’ll make the switch. For years I have been waiting for magazines like Communication Arts or Graphis to be available in a digital subscription format, unfortunately they aren’t there just yet. Others are though, and as I skimmed through the store section last night, I was able to check off Dwell, Automobile, National Geographic, Clash, Frame, Architectural Record, Azure, Landscape Design, Layers, American Spectator, Fast Company, The Economist, Paper, the Utne Reader, .Net, Car & Driver, Men’s Health, etc.

We’ll see how this goes, but so far I am pretty impressed with the whole experience. I have been surprised that in some cases, I have had to go to the Zinio website to get specific titles like Men’s Health, and that getting the magazine to the iPad has not been as seamless as I would like, but I am pretty certain that all of this will change in the next few months as Zinio, for iPad and soon to be Android gain more traction.

Zinio and the iPad, an Almost Perfect Match.

Over the weekend I installed the Zinio Application on the iPad. I found it via Appfire and thought I would give it a shot. The app is free, and I figured if it was lame I’d simply delete it and move on.

Zinio is in a sense a virtual news stand for your iPad. It currently has over 1900 consumer magazines and 300 books, and is proving to be the largest collection in the world, either in newsstand print or digital format. Similar to what Apple and iTunes did for music, Zinio makes is extra easy to get high quality readable content on your iPad, iPhone or Desktop.

Bottom line this application rocks. Zinio is a snap to use, quick, easy, well designed, great user experience, and it the publications look just as good on the iPad as they do in print. And lets not forget the big plus that Zinio brings to the table. Your magazines now support video and audio. That is the one huge advantage that the digital versions have over print.

When I first launched the app, I was presented with a series of featured articles, all of which are free. You browse the articles by flipping to the next one moving back and forth with the flick of a finger. When you find some thing you want, touch it and the article loads. At the bottom of the screen there is a time line that allows you to jump to any page simply by touching it. When you are done, Zinio asks if you would like to buy a copy of the magazine, or a years worth of issues. It’s as simple as that.

In addition to the free featured articles, there are three areas in Zinio you view while in the app which are Featured, Library, and Buy. The “Buy” section is where you purchase magazines or books that you currently don’t own. Once you have made your purchases, they are stored in the library, and can be sorted by either the date of purchase or the name. Using the same visual metaphor that Apple has applied to the photo gallery on the iPad, Zinio stacks the magazines, if you have multiple months, it stacks them on top of each other. Touch a stack and the pile opens up to show you all of the magazines in that title you own.

Reading magazines and books from your library is just like the iPhone version of the app. Thumbnails of each title are laid out in a grid in front of you, find your magazine, touch it and it pops up full screen. If it hasn’t been downloaded, you can still read as Zinio loads the entire file in the background. Because the iPad is so much larger than the iPhone, magazines average about 50 to 70 MB in size. Because of this, you are going to see longer load times per issue, but it isn’t that bad. On a solid WiFi connection, it took less than 5 minutes to get the latest issue of National Geographic, and this is a fully interactive issue withe embedded audio and video files. I’m not sure but it looks like Zinio is loading the same file that you would get if you were using the desktop version in a browser.

I have been using this app for about two days now, and have downloaded about 8 magazines. One thing is quite clear, this is a great user experience. Reading is easy on the eyes, pages load fast, photographs and illustrations look amazing, and then there are all those video extras. I find that I can read any article as if I were looking at a printed page. If pages contain sidebars, or small text sections, you can simply pinch to zoom in, or in some cases double tap a section to launch it as a pop up above the page. In the current issue of National Geographic, there are sections that launch a series of images as full-page slide shows as well. All of this adds up to a richer experience for you the reader, an experience that ink on paper simply can’t produce. I think that the Zinio app, and the iPad are an almost perfect match.

My only gripes I have with the Zinio app are pretty minor. Some are because of the current iOS running on the iPad, some are bugs, and some are just little quirks. Because the iPad is running iOS 3.x you can’t download multiple magazines at the same time. Hopefully that will change later this year. When I tried to set up an account through the iPad app it told me my email address was in use by another account. When I went to the website, and signed up, it turned out not to be the case. And when you load a new page, it takes Zinio a second or two to render the new page. That could be a processor thing though, and will probably improve with newer versions of the iPad. One thing I haven’t found yet, but would really like to see added is a search feature. I’d love to be able to search through all my magazines for a specific article, word, image, or video. That’s not a deal breaker, but it is a “would be nice to have.”

At the end of the day, Zinio is a perfect match for the iPad. It is going to do for me what iTunes did for music, and I am hoping that at some point I can say “I haven’t purchased a print copy of a magazine in over ten years”.