Your Digital Media Strategy Needs Work

Maclean‘s is my favorite magazine.  It is the only magazine that we still get in print.  Anyone wanting to understand what’s going on in Canada should read it.  There’s a lot of unfortunate reporting – multi-page spreads on potential Liberal leaders and anything that Barbara Amiel writes, frankly – but, on the whole, it’s a good weekly read.  The digital version was typical of e-magazines, resembling the print exactly with pseudo paging.

[UpdateMaclean’s 2017 digital strategy and it’s 2016 Android app finally caused me to cancel my subscription.]


They started with their own app.  The Maclean’s app was not well received.  I didn’t use it although I installed it to see why it was so awful.

Maclean's Magazine original Android app
Maclean’s Magazine original Android app

It’s still available but this appears to be an oversight since I don’t think anything recent would appear in it.

Not Terrible

The original magazine was provided using Zinio.  I’m not a huge fan of the Zinio reader but it is the tool of choice for the subscription provided by the Toronto Public Library.  Like most online analogs of print media, it has an execrable Web-based version.  It has a tolerable Android app and I can download magazines and read them on the train.

But Rogers pulled the plug on their partnership with Zinio in late 2013.

Toronto Public Library announcement on their Zinio page about Rogers Communication pulling its magazines.
Toronto Public Library announcement on their Zinio page about Rogers Communication pulling its magazines.

I contacted their help about it because there wasn’t an Android option for their digital version.  They have consistently offered iPad access but Android was postponed.  Initially, the customer service representative responded that the magazine would be available on Google Play “in a few weeks” and I contacted them again in October.  The magazine had appeared on Play but it was not something a subscriber could add.  But there was no answer from Maclean’s so I just kept my eyes peeled.

Better but Not Working

Every so often, I would look for an option on their Web site for Android users.  I noticed a lot of Web site neglect in the last few months and wasn’t surprised to find that they had totally reworked their site.  Having been in that position, I know it’s common to let things slide a little when you’ve got something new coming.  The site is still using WordPress but has a mobile-oriented theme.  It makes sense and copies conventions that are common in online news sites.  I rarely look at the Web site beyond the few RSS feeds I follow by specific contributors.

I figured I’d look for an Android version again and this time was rewarded with new instructions.  Whatever plans Rogers had for Maclean’s subscribers to use Google Play seem to have been punted.  You can still get the magazine there but you need the Kobo Reader app if you want to have Maclean’s on an Android device.  Fine, another app for a single magazine, another account with another online service hawking periodicals.

It didn’t work for me.  I’m sure it’s just a hiccup in getting accounts synchronized but I couldn’t use my account information.  The Kobo app throws an error.  Worse, the app is so poorly designed that when you select the line for the subscriber account number, at the bottom of the page, your keyboard will then obscure the input line so you have to guess that you’re typing it correctly.

The box and button are at the bottom of the screen, which is where the keyboard will appear when you select the input box. Poor design on the part of Kobo.
The box and button are at the bottom of the screen, which is where the keyboard will appear when you select the input box. Poor design on the part of Kobo.

So I’ll have a round 6 months without digital access to my favorite weekly magazine because they can’t seem to get their digital strategy straight at Maclean’s.  Android users are second class citizens, there was no attempt to maintain continuity for readers through their migrations across platforms, and digital was only a tantalizing hope for some print subscribers.

The app issues aren’t their fault.  Kobo’s developers weren’t thinking, apparently, when they put an input box at the bottom of a mobile screen.  I assume my experience isn’t that different from most tablet users.  It was one last frustration on a pile of them.

No Portability

This is really what gets stuck in my craw.  I’ve now got to manage another username and password on a platform that I don’t want (Kobo) in order to get one magazine.  The other magazines I read use a separate app, with two sets of usernames and passwords.  Neither of these app makers has made an app that was as good to use as a reader as it is for selling irrelevant rubbish.  I never stop at the Zinio sales splash page but always go immediately to my own magazine shelf.

I am looking forward to magazines making the same transition that many e-books have made.  If I buy an epub book, I can often read it any reader.  I am not tied to any particular one – unless it’s within the Overdrive world – so I can choose the reader with the best feature set.  Magazines seem to be locked down with features that seem of questionable value to most readers.  Whenever an app offers to synchronize my reading habits and information for me – generally storing it on their servers in the process – I’m wary.

It will be satisfying to finally get to the same point digitally as we are offline where, once I have downloaded a publication to read, I can do so offline without having to use the publisher’s app.  At some point my preference for downloadable PDF versions will outweigh any benefit in using digital editions.  They rarely offer anything beyond the linear experience of a PDF in any event, and my local PDF editor has more tools than most e-magazine readers I’ve experienced.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.