Magazines on a Kindle? Who knew?

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When I ask people their thoughts about reading magazines on a Kindle, a surprisingly large percentage are quick to dismiss the concept. 

I’m an old-skool Kindle user. I like my black-and-white, focus-on-the-text, no backlight device because it offers no distractions. When I’m using my Kindle, it’s because I want to read. Really read. I use my Kindle primarily to read great content for which the design is less critical to the overall meaning. Magazines for the older Kindle make sense to me when they’re text-heavy, such as the Harvard Business Review, The Economist, or The New Yorker

But for magazines where the design is a primary factor, like Monocle, InStyle, or Fast Company, what is the benefit of a Kindle version? Newer Kindle lines like the Kindle Fire actually offer a good experience here. 

Reading Magazines on a Kindle Fire

I examined several magazines on the Kindle Fire, and most fall into one of two categories: individual Kindle mobi documents (the majority) or a container app with a storefront (this seems to be the minority but my research indicated this is more likely the direction things are heading), similar to most iOS Newsstand publications. 

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Kindle magazine documents (text-based):

The Kindle magazines are a little bit strange to get your head around and first. Many have two views: a zoomed-out view (screenshots of the individual pages) that you can swipe through as well as a reading view. The zoomed-out view has page-turn animations and retains the editorial design and layout. The reading view has nicer fonts, better spacing and a paginated full-text view of the article.  The reading view will remind you of the older Kindle reading experience, except that it also may have color images and some basic but nice formatting. 

I really grew to like this magazine format actually because you can see the editorial design in the zoomed out view, but still get the text in a pleasant reading view. And with the zoomed-out image view, you can get a nice navigation element to swipe quickly through the entire publication. It’s a little awkward going between the two and it’s not perfect, but I like it a lot better than most replica iPad magazines I have seen. 

Android magazine apps (image-based):

The container app magazines seem to be native Android apps. So you have a storefront where you can subscribe or purchase individual issues, a bookshelf to access those you’ve purchased, and a reading view. The ones I examined were huge sizes to download and took a while, probably because the magazines were completely made up of very large images. They were also no strangers to crashing. 

With the container apps, you can expect to find things like the dreaded, “How to use this magazine” page we remember from awkward iOS magazines. But a nice surprise is that these apps incorporate appropriate media like exclusive videos, sound bites and click-to-buy without the burden of having to wonder how to navigate or swipe each page, as with many iPad magazines. 

Two Examples

To show you a bit more what I mean about the formats, I have two examples below: The Economist and InStyle

For The Economist, we have zoomed-out page views (that, due to resolution, can’t go full screen in portrait mode, and can in landscape mode though at that size the text is unreadable). We have the reading view of the articles. And we have the scrubber to navigate quickly through sections. This works for The Economist because its text-heavy, dense nature makes it a good candidate for the reading view. You can quickly read all the content in a comfortable format, and you don’t feel like you’re missing out on a lot of visual additions. 

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Contrast that to InStyle, where every page is a full screen image, and pages slide side-by-side. At the top we have a familiar scrubber for quick navigation. There’s no reading view, and there’s no landscape mode. What you see is what you get. Touching the page will bring down the navigation icons and menus and touching it again will make them disappear. Unless of course you’ve touched an advertisement page, in which case you’ll see a blank page for a few seconds and then realize you’re actually now on that brand’s web page. Oh.

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Slideshow: Example pages from InStyle

While I don’t like this experience nearly as much, I have to admit it works for a magazine like InStyle. The editorial design comes through and is enjoyable to browse. There’s not enough text to warrant a reading view, and the articles that are there have large enough fonts that you can read them comfortably enough. Unless you have accessibility controls turned on, in which case you’ll experience the “black box” of digital magazines as shown in my videos for .net magazine here: http://www.netmagazine.com/features/10-great-ways-make-your-content-portable-and-accessible

Pros for Kindle Magazines

Something I found I love about magazines on Kindles is the pagination. I love not having to think about scrolling. I love that the next page comes from just a swipe or click; I don’t have to poke or prod the page to figure out what content I might be missing, like I always do with iPad magazines. 

A couple of other random pros: 

  • Prices seem to be cheaper, with many magazines in the $0.99-$1.99 range versus iPad’s $3.99-$6.99 range. 
  • Most magazine subscriptions give you 14 days to a month free. All of the non-app magazines I looked at were free for a month. 
  • Kindle reading features: if you’re used to being able to do things like increase font size, change font, and change contrast, you still have these options for the reading views in standalone magazines, which is really nice. 
  • Newsstand search! As a publisher, this might be my favorite part about publishing content to the Kindle Newsstand – it’s actually findable. You can browse by categories instead of just the 30 newest magazines Apple decided to call out. 

Summary

E Ink Kindle lovers like me might have a hard time believing that magazines can be great on a Kindle. But the Kindle Fire HD shows that some really interesting and delightful reading experiences can be created, and that the power of the platform is that publishers can decide the best format for their content. 

This is a two-part article. This half focused on the reading experience of Kindle magazines and why it’s good for both readers and publishers. In the follow up blog post, I will cover the many ways to publish to the Kindle marketplace. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to cover, feel free to email me at martha [at] woop dot ie. 

 

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