in Apple, critique, reading, tech

Today, I got an email from Magzter, a digital magazine subscription service, telling me of their Magzter Gold service, which, for $100/year, gives me access to more than five thousand magazines. The offer is that instead of a cool hundred, you can get the subscription for half off for the first year.

When I looked at the email, I balked.

Last year, I ran an experiment. I signed up for quite a few paper magazine subscriptions, through DiscountMags, a service that gives us huge discounts on physical magazines, in exchange for yearly subscriptions. I set myself an upper limit of $100 arbitrarily, and wanted to see how many magazines I could subscribe to, and how many I actually read out of them. I stopped at $60, because most of the magazines I saw at the QFC checkout stand and felt like I wanted to read were no more than a couple bucks for the yearly subscription, while their retail prices were well over ten bucks per issue.

I got all the big ones – NatGeo, Forbes, Vogue, Wired, Vanity Fair, and some trashy mags too, for good measure.

I read almost none of them. A few articles here or there, which I was aware of, or some covers that pulled me in. But other than that, each magazine was a mess of ads, pop-out ads, subscription offers for other magazines, and sponsored posts. Finding the content was a pain. Comparatively, with RSS feeds, I can find relevant articles in a few seconds, and just dive into reading it instead of flipping pages.

So when Apple News+ came along at some point, and my brother raved about it, I said I’ll pass. It’d be the same crap all over again.

But then I see this Magzter offer, and I’m thinking about this world again. Digital magazines are easier to navigate than paper, but only if they’ve been built to be so. If you’re an Apple News+ user, you might have noticed that each magazine is a different style, some letting you bounce around, and giving you dedicated views for articles, while others looking like a literal PDF imported into the app. That’s because they are.

Apple News+ is not a new service. Apple acquired a company called Texture (or rather, it’s parent company Next Issue Media) to build their portfolio, and these companies – Next Issue, Magzter, Readly – they all give huge amounts of creative control to the magazine owners to show their content how they want to, within certain bounds. So while some companies have put in the money to create digital versions of their content, a lot of them just can’t be bothered.

Which is why, when you look at offers such as Magzter’s half off for the first year, or Readly’s first month for a buck, you might want to go for it. Recently, I finally let myself be convinced to get Apple News+ through family sharing. I’m not a fan of Apple’s family sharing implementation, but they’ve been getting better at it. So I finally got a look at Apple News+ and realized that at $10/mo, it’s not really anything different than what the other services are offering.

Apple News is pretty well integrated with iOS, with Apple letting you share links to articles that open directly in the News app. But when you share a News+ link, it mostly ends up opening just the magazine instead of the exact article you want to share. So that integration really doesn’t go anywhere.

Apple has done some work on the News app interface, making it snappier, but when the crux of the interface sits with the content, and your content providers are magazine dinosaurs, there’s no hope there. No matter what Apple does, they’re beholden to the likes of American Media and Future PLC for the content, and while sometimes they move to make things better, don’t expect them to embrace digital journalism with gusto.

At that point, each of these services has done a good enough job, supporting multiple platforms (Apple News+ is the only one in the space that doesn’t have an Android app), giving you a solid interface, and constantly updating their features to make magazine reading just a little bit saner.

If you’re thinking about Apple News+, or have a subscription to it, just know that you’re paying $120 a year for something you could be getting at $50 through Magzter Gold.

What do you think?

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