Back in 2004, ‘Nuts’ magazine brazenly strutted out of IPC Media’s printing presses and instantly made all lad’s mags before it look like The Beano.
With no apology, it went right for the girls, gadgets and sports loving bloke and it won many of them over with an initial circulation of 300,000 copies every month.
Alas (really?) Nuts Magazine is no more and it won’t take many prizes for guessing why. You know what is very good at piping sport, smut, gadgets and, well, anything else you’re interested in following to your eyes? Yes, the internet!
Like music, movies and books before it, the humble magazine is under massive threat from new forms of media and needs to adapt to survive.
The big difference is that when it comes to music, books, and movies (yes I know you can get them for free - illegally) they do still need to be paid for and the movie and publishing industry has been adapting; making the content available in the ways that people now want. It’s not so easy for magazines. Unlike a book, a magazine is disposable. Also unlike a book, a lot of the content is disposable and is now easily and freely available online. The demand for magazines themselves is falling away.
I fear the magazine may have quite a short shelf time left, but that’s not to say there aren't innovators looking to haul the magazine into the digital age and keep it relevant (and making money).
Take Readly for example. This is currently being bandied about as the Spotify of magazines and it’s a good way of looking at it. Readly is an app for your tablet, mobile phone or desktop browser that let’s you read any title from hundreds of magazines for one fixed monthly price.
The Readly app is free and there is a two week free subscription to get a taste of the service before you start putting down the required £9.99 per month to keep enjoying the mags. No card required, which is good.
The app itself is easy to use and well presented. Scrolling through the titles, there are a decent number of different magazines to suit all tastes, including well known car mags like 'Autocar' and 'What Car' and popular women's like 'Marie-Claire' and 'Woman's Weekly'. Several of these magazines retail for £5 per month (less with a subscription I know), so if there are a couple that you would read every month (plus all the back issues), there are signs of value here.
Now no one is going to read all of them, but it’s quite interesting to explore some of the niche titles that you wouldn’t normally pick up off the newsagent shelf although I recommend avoiding the super yaht titles if you don’t want to see a whole other world available only to the insanely rich.
With the app available across mobiles and tablets, it’s nice to see that Readly are very happy for you to share the account with your family on up to 5 devices, again making that monthly rate look pretty good value.
So what of the experience of reading a magazine on a tablet or a phone. Let’s start with tablets. In my case a 10” iPad, which did an excellent job of being my digital magazine library. The titles themselves are very high quality scans of their paper relatives (occasionally you can make out the edges of the paper). You turn the pages with a swipe of the screen and a nice page animation attempts to make the feeling familiar. Happily, there are some big advantages to a digital version, beyond delivery straight to your device. You can pinch to zoom, making the text larger for those who find it more comfortable, or to get a closer look at a picture. Quality does drop a little bit at full zoom, it must be noted (Update: I've noticed the quality of scans recently have been more or less top notch!). touching the bottom of the page brings up a slider bar which you can use to quickly track through the pages to find something specific, with thumbnail graphics giving you a small preview.
Less successful are the mobile phone apps. It’s not that the apps themselves are badly written. On my HD screened Nexus 4, the scanned pages look great. But of course it’s far too small a screen to read the whole page without being closely zoomed in on the text. A lot of work goes into a page layout on a magazine and all this is lost as you pan around hunting down the next paragraph. The iPad couldn’t show a double-page spread, but the phone can rarely even show an entire paragraph. The only plus side is that your mobile is always there and it does give you something to read when out and about when there is no mobile connection available. Being able to download the magazines to read offline anytime does compensate a little.
To my mind, Readly is a neat way for a family to get their magazine fix for sensible money. For my own money, I’d like to see have a few more tech magazines in there (What HIFI is okay, but a Stuff or T3 would be nice (Edit Mar 2015: Stuff is now there!!!) and perhaps a subscribe button that automatically downloads new titles when they become available.
For the wider market, whilst there is a place for Readly, there are big hurdles to overcome. Take Flipboard for example, which packages freely available internet content into zero cost digital magazines. The formatting of these work and play beautifully on the iPad and mobile, taking advantage of each’s strengths. And of course, it supports audio and video embedded into articles, which is beyond Readly’s scope.
If it’s a particular magazine you’re after, like Stuff or T3 for the techies - well they have their own digital editions, again with formatting and functionality designed to move things on a bit and not just to mimic a magazine on a screen. These are more expensive, but they also feel much more ‘now’.
I hope Readly survives and gives these magazines an extra lease of life. It’s pleasant to read on a tablet, reasonable value and just needs a slightly wider range of titles in certain categories to hook gadget lovers (who are the folk who download and promote apps by word of mouth most) and other interest areas in order to get a full Dependent on Gadgets recommendation.
Update! I'm pleased to report that gadget fans like myself can enjoy T3 Magazine on Readly. I also note that iPad & iPhone User and PC Advisor have also appeared. Gamers are also looked after with Games Master and Official Xbox Magazine. With loads of back issues also available, I am happy to bump Readly up to full Dependent on Gadgets recommendation.