Digital Magazines: Regular or Super-Sized?

All of my magazine subscriptions are in digital format. Several of them (New ScientistRolling StoneEsquire) I read via the Zinio App. Many others (most of my science fiction magazines, for instance) I read via the Kindle App. And several I read as PDF files (Writer’s DigestScientific American, and Locus). I noticed that there is a trend to make magazines more interactive, which could be a good thing, but the trend seems to be to make them more interactive in a less useful way.

When I think of good “interactive” features, I think of things like highlighting text and/or articles. Capturing notes. Linking to additional online material. Sharing items over social media. Some of the apps do some of these things, but the trends seems to be more along the lines of marketing tie-ins. In Esquire, for instance, there is a SHOP button that I can tap if I want to shop for something I see in an ad on the page. (Possibly, this is a useful feature to some, but in Esquire, I find that the things on the page often cost multiple thousands of dollar.)

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And then there is the exploding size of the magazines. Take Scientific American for instance, a magazine which I’ve been reading for nearly two-decades, and one I love. The digital version of the magazine is offered as a PDF file, which is generally between 20-30 MB in size, and which I read via the Kindle App on my iPad. Recently, Scientific American has informed me that as a subscriber to the digital edition, I can now access the magazine directly on my iPad. So I have this a try. Turns out, I prefer the PDF version. Part of the problem is that the iPad version is often several hundred megabytes in size, 10 times at least the size of the PDF file. Why is this? I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s due to the embedding of all kinds of extra multimedia stuff within the file. Time magazine did this as well, and I hated it. I love the idea of reading my magazines in digital form, and having them look just the way the print versions look–but I hate the idea of stuffing all kinds of extras into the file. If you want to include these, make them links so that I can optionally download them. As it stands, I can hold hundreds of issues of Scientific American on my iPad in PDF format–but far less in the ballooned iPad format.

Do we really need these super-sized versions of our digital magazines, or is the regular version with some embedded links good enough? I tend to lean toward the latter, but then again, I read the paper version of the magazine for a long time before I switched to the digital version and I may be biased by that.