Magazine Subscriptions Are Too Hard

OK, not really, but sort of.

Some magazines I just leaf through and toss in the recycling, but for others I love having back issues on disk (I’m looking at you New Yorker and National Geographic), and I want a subscription that gives me online access and then sends me a CD at the end of the year. Or maybe a little flash memory card. Or a link to an archive file. (Yes, as I’ve written this, I realize I don’t want to process them weekly or even monthly. I am sure that says something substantial about me. But even just logistically speaking, I am talking about magazines that, as I understand the demographics, people tend to form long-term relationships with.)

As it is, magazines push you to the paper product OR the digital edition OR occasional omnibus archive sets. Often sold so separately, you might not even be aware of the other formats. I don’t like that.

Part of the problem I’ve had over the years is that I don’t much like the proprietary magazine apps I’ve used. My idea of what I want, I guess, is a full-text-searchable PDF of each issue. But I do like meaningful search functions (“All ‘Shouts and Murmurs’ pieces for x date range”). So files I could load into a proprietary viewer would be fine. I would happily pay an annual subscription fee for viewer software and software updates.

Would this be way harder for most people than whatever they have now? Are people so lulled by installers that they would balk at “drag this into whatever folder your viewer is in”? Do I feel this way just because I’ve used apps that pair with file formats for so long? It seems like a more reasonable trade-off than, say, Microsoft Word–only compatability, because elegant and customized search options feel like good value added to me—especially if they could break out some components and consolidate across issues, like slideshows by subject in NG. I like back issues, but I also want to be able to navigate an archive.

National Geographic does something like what I want. It offers a digital edition, and it sells a big archive product for which you can buy annual updates. But I don’t see those features sold together, and I’m turned off by the hassle factor of figuring it all out on my own. And I don’t want to cancel my subscription and then try to remind myself to order the update disk at the end of the year.

This is a little bit about paper, but it’s more about clutter. I like paper magazines as an experience and for their portability, but I also LOVE moving stacks of them out of my place periodically (and retaining a digital archive). I just want the publishers to make it easy for me to give them my money and still have the mix I want of subscription and archive. (Super extra ultra bonus points if they adopt an archive format that is widely parsable, eg, so you could always leaf through with, for example, a PDF viewer even if value-added nav apps are no longer supported. Also, a pony.)

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