17 Aug 2009

Pot, kettle, black and Kindle: The New Yorker Digital Edition sucks

filed under: journal  :: expat life  :: frustrations  :: modern life  :: reading

In a recent article, which thankfully is readable on their website, The New Yorker, or rather writer Nicolson Baker, dissed Amazon's Kindle soundly. The main complaints: The screen is not white enough, the digital ink is not inky enough, not enough books available, and so on and so forth. I do not have a Kindle, mainly it's not available here in Europe (I could buy one in the U.S. but it would be useless, since can't download any books here). But the article did take the edge away from my formerly very deep desire to obtain a Kindle, once a European edition came out.

However, what made me snort in derision was the fact that, while The New Yorker features a 6,000+ word article saying how unworkable the Kindle is, they aren't exactly blazing new trails on the digital reading material front with their Digital Edition. Basically, it sucks and is a huge pain in the ass.

I love The New Yorker, and had an ongoing subscription for all the years I lived in New York. When I moved to Switzerland I wanted to continue, but it would cost me $112 a year, or nearly 3 times what a U.S. subscription costs. So I had contented myself with the articles they put on their website.

Still, I did miss getting the whole thing, so when the Digital Edition was announced earlier this year, I subscribed right then and there. (Expats like myself are the ideal customer for digital books. I read a lot of books on screen, and get most of my news from "back home" online.) A Digital Edition subscription costs the same as a U.S. dead-tree subscription, $39.95/year. I was happy.

Until I opened up my first digital issue. Basically it's a collection of rasterized images of each 2-page spread in the magazine, arranged in the same order as the paper magazine. Here's a spread from the most recent issue as it first appears on-screen (click to see full window version:)


Yep, totally unreadable like that. It's not meant to be readable I think. It's just a pretty picture.

So, to read a page, you have to click on it. You then get a legible size pretty picture of the 3-column layout, which you have to scroll up-down, left-right, several times to read. This is not user friendly.


Add to that the annoyance of slow loading pages. This occurs whether I am on a dialup or a very fast near-a-hub connection. Pages usually load within 10 seconds, but sometimes they get stuck for minutes.


They did however go to the trouble of making the URLs in the ads clickable. Oh joy.


Reading the Digital Edition is so annoying that I haven't really used it much and will probably not renew my subscription. I just wait for the articles to come out on their web site, which is set up for reading on-screen properly (being that it's a web site and all).

What I wonder is, why can't The New Yorker arrange all of their content in an on-screen readable manner instead of giving us this digitized-paper nonsense? Surely all of their content is in digital form already anyway. I suppose they are trying to recreate the paper reading experience, but really, it does not work.

(You do have the option of printing out every page. But surely only people over 60 (aka my parents' generation) print out web pages to read.)

One great plus of the Digital Edition is the access to the complete magazine archive, going back to 1925. To read the 1925 edition I will tolerate this scanned-paper nonsense. But for the 2009 edition? I don't think so. I am contemplating buying the DVD archive, which costs less than $20, but it only goes up to 2005. Grumble.

Anyway, if you already have a paper subscription to The New Yorker, you can get access to the digital edition for free. A digital-only subscription is not quite worth it. And really, if you are going to go around pontificating about 'the future of digital books' blah blah, fix your own house first.

Comments on this post:

Just read (well, skimmed) the

Just read (well, skimmed) the bloated New Yorker article. What a snarky turd that is.

My pet Kindle review peeve: People who haven't actually used the Kindle to read any significant number of books. Apparently the guy read less than a full book on it, and judged the iPhone as better based on reading less even than that. If you haven't read a dozen real books, you're still in the preconceived judgment phase. I'd expect this from blogs, but I'm assuming that this guy actually got paid a decent sum for his let's-inflate-the-word-count opus.

Not to mention that you haven't seen the variation of formatting support from publishers (who are responsible for whether a book's transition to Kindle is good or not). Nor have you seen the difference among the various supported formats (AZM, Topaz, MOBI, txt). Just things like the various ways that footnotes can be supported, and their various merits.

Oh, I see what you're saying.

Oh, I see what you're saying. You're not talking about the *Kindle* version of the New Yorker, but some other digital version. The Kindle version is fine (although apparently it's not 100 percent complete, not including every single cartoon).

Huh? Are you sure? Maybe they

Huh? Are you sure? Maybe they have two versions bundled together? I did the two-week freebie, and I'm sure I would have noticed this. The only images were the cartoons. This was back in the second week of July when I was visiting the U.S.

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