Industry Magazines on an E-Reader

Why aren’t there any trade publications formatted for e-reader tablets such as the Nook, Kindle, Kobo, Iriver, Sony?

I’ve asked several publishers of magazines in the processing sector, magazines covering the chemical industry and related vertical sectors if they are planning portable versions of their publications.

Sometimes they look at me funny, or if we’re speaking by telephone, there’s a pause while I imagine them looking at the phone funny.

Then, they tell me about their digital version. And I say no, that’s not useful to me. I hate reading lengthy stuff on the computer screen, and these digital versions with their virtual-folded page corners and zoom buttons, just don’t really help me consume this sort of content comfortably.

But I went and looked at several of the digital editions that I receive, and found—and the publishers didn’t even mention this, except for one—that some of them have a PDF button, so I downloaded several of these PDFs to see how well they would work on the Nook. I have the original, E-Ink version of the Nook, and I use it to read Barnes and Noble ebooks, Google Books public-domain ebooks, and Overdrive Epub ebooks from local libraries. I also side-load lengthy reports and content collections, and long web pages and blog posts that I want to read, usually using a device-management tool called Calibre.  A very convenient utility, Calibre converts several formats, including PDF, HTML, DOC, and can also gather up RSS feeds and turn them into EPUB format for consumption on e-reader devices. It does lots more too.

I downloaded three PDF editions of industrial magazines:  March 2011 Chemical Engineering, and May issues of Plant Services and Packaging Digest.

After experimenting with converting these PDF-format files to the Epub format that naturally reflows and resizes on the Nook, (the conversion process distorted the files to the point of unreadability) I transferred them intact, as PDFs, to the devices.

I read them on the two devices I have access to:  My original Barnes and Noble Nook, with its monochrome E-ink display, and my daughter’s much newer LCD Nook Color.

The winner on my Nook was:  Packaging Digest.

PD was the clear winner, and there was a clear reason:  When the publisher of PD made the PDF file, they put more effort into the quality and usability of the document. 

Mainly, they included a table of contents, which in a well-formatted PDF creates a set of hyperlinks that show up on the left side of the Adobe Reader when the file is opened on a desktop computer, and these links are very convenient for navigating within the document.

On the Monochrome Nook eReader device, the table of contents items are also recognized as navigation links for the document, making it much easier to glance at the titles of the features and articles, and quickly and easily select an article and begin reading (without paging through stuff you’re not interested in.)

Image of Packaging Digest article, Nook

Article Title Page, Monochrome Nook

The other two magazines also worked okay for reading on the devices.  But without the convenient contents links, the process was much clumsier.  I had to page through to the actual table of contents page, and when I got there, note the page number of an article I was interested in reading, then use the Nook’s Go To Page feature, which is a slider function on the LCD screen, and isn’t especially precise.

Also, on the Nook, in the issues without contents links, it was more difficult to differentiate sections of advertising from sections of editorial. 

Article on Nook Color

Chemical Engineering Article on Nook Color

The performance of the Nook Color was about the same for all three magazines.  Because I was forced to use PDF format, many of the functions that would make these magazines usable and vibrant on this 7″ LCD screen just don’t work.  Turning the device to read in landscape mode, for instance, doesn’t work in the native PDF reader.  This lack requires more pinching and zooming to read various sections of the 3-column format that magazines–whether industrial or consumer oriented–use in common.

Chemical Engineering Cover on Nook Color

Chemical Engineering Cover on Nook ColorChemical Engineering Article

All these problems would be solved by publishers releasing device-dedicated versions of the magazines.  The problem is, what about delivery?

Side-loading content to these devices is not a problem for techie types, and really not overly difficult for anybody who is accustomed to moving files of any sort from machine to machine–for instance, MP3 music or audio files from a desktop or laptop to a portable audio player like an Ipod or a Sansa. 

Still, ideally there should be a mechanism to make professional reading on these devices as convenient as leisure reading.

Maybe it’s time for the trade magazine publishers to band together and develop an Ap.  Chances are, some members of the industrial audience will begin accessing portable content on Smartphones or multipurpose tablets before they have dedicated  reading devices like these.