There are some obvious trends in the way we tend to consume our ever digitising entertainment media. I think it is safe to say the future lies with said media residing on the cloud and with us paying to acquire access to this cloud. That is the model employed by Spotify for music and Netflix for movies. So successful has this model been that others are running to find an answer, most recently Apple - up until now the undisputed king - offering its iTunes Radio.
It also seems obvious that the more casual the consumption of the media, the easier it is to use the model of operation that has us accessing content residing at that great library in the sky as opposed to us buying individual pieces of cloud for personal use (ala Amazon and its Kindle). This explains why we are fine with Spotify and Netflix but not so fine using a similarly inclined service for book reading.
If these are the trends, then where do we go from here? What's next after music and movies?
The answer I am contemplating is magazines. Unlike books they are casual in consumption; and unlike books I care less about DRM because my consumption of magazines is generally of the "read once and throw away" frame of mind. The reality is I hardly have time for magazines; most are too shallow to begin with.
With that in mind, I went looking for services to satisfy my thirst. Services that would allow me to read any magazine I feel like on my iPad. Two services seemed to answer my criteria.
The first, and seemingly the best in the crowd, is Next Issue. For $10 USD a month, a subscriber receives "all you can eat" access to more than a hundred magazines. These include some classy ones, like Wired. $5 USD more would get you access to even more content in the shape of news oriented, more frequently published magazines, such as Time.
The problem, as always, is with Next Issue being closed to Australians. Or, in other words, you can only join if you have an American or Canadian credit card.
Moving onwards, I stumbled on a very similar service called Readr. It's very similar to Next Issue: $10.50 a month grants you access to a large number of magazines, albeit a different collection of magazines to Next Issue's. There is no Time here, nor Wired; actually, there was nothing remotely exciting in the popular science or tech departments nor in the automative department. Readr did prove to have some interesting stuff, like Widescreen Review and Stereophile, but personally I did not find enough there to continue beyond my free trial.
I did get a bit of an appetite, though, so I went looking for more conventional ways of magazine consumption on the iPad. Again, it became evident everyone outside the USA is being shafted: Amazon, for example, offers a print + digital subscription for 6 issues of Wired for a measly $5 USD. Outside the USA, a yearly digital only subscription to the same magazine stands at $20 USD.
Once we step into the realm of purchasing specific magazines for digital consumption the playing field does significantly expand. Pretty much everything is available, either through Apple or through specific apps (such as Make Magazine's).
Of the numerous contenders I currently seem to prefer Zinio the most. Zinio seems to have three advantages: the first is a huge collection of magazines to pick from (Time was the only one I could not find), the second its support for all useable platforms (as opposed to iOS alone), and the third being regularly received subscription discount offers. The latter make it easier for the patient reader to "catch" a subscription to their magazine of choice at a price closer to what an American reader would pay. One does need to remember to cancel the automatically renewing subscription if one wants to always be on a discount, though.
Overall, my impression is that the digital magazine market is currently where the digital music market was 3-4 years ago. Publishers are dipping their feet in the water, but are generally afraid to step in. Someone should tell them to get on with the show.
Image by Manoj Jacob, Creative Commons licence