Sirius Is a Joke
Geeks On Call – 5-Minute Fixes

Moving from Print to Digital

Despite my seemingly endless search for a good online content distribution model, I have to admit that I’ve been slow to move my own reading from print to digital. As I’ll mention in a bit later, however, ESPN (of all things!) is helping me switch.

I scan/read through a lot of computer/tech trade magazines. That’s only part of the line-up, however. Here’s what I tend to look at on a regular basis:

InfoWorld, eWeek, ComputerWorld, InformationWeek, BusinessWeek, Time, FastCompany, Business 2.0, PC Magazine, PC World, mental floss, Discover, Wired, Popular Science, Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine

I used to get most of my tech news from InfoWorld and ComputerWorld. Like most tech magazines, the issues today are a fraction of the size they were in the late ‘90’s. As a result, I tend to use cnet’s and Google News to get more of my tech news these days. If you haven’t tried Google News, you need to. I love the fact that I can configure it to always be on the lookout for the latest stories on whatever keywords I give it.

I’m concerned that switching more to an online reading approach is going to narrow my focus too much, causing me to miss out on some of the things I might stumble across in a print magazine. My online reading experience is fairly common: I search for a phrase and read about the results. This doesn’t lend itself to the exploration into completely unrelated topics you might find yourself jumping to in a magazine. So although approximately 90% of my day-to-day reading activity is done via print, I’m not sure I’d ever be happy with a reversed model where 90% of my reading is done online.

By the way, is anyone familiar with a search/news service that offers a feature similar to Amazon’s “Customers who viewed this also viewed…”, but from a linkage/clickthru point of view? For example, one of my Google News search items is “Windows Vista”. Google does a fine job giving me a list of related stories sorted either by relevance or date. But what about having a third sort option: “by clickthru”, where the links at the top are the ones most clicked on by those who searched before you? Yes, Google does a nice job of figuring out the most relevant links for my search phrase, but I’d also like to know which links real people found to be the most valuable. Maybe this is part of the much more complex “relevance” algorithm, but I’d like to see it separated as a option all its own.

I’d also like to see a separate box in the results, perhaps set off to the side, entitled “Readers who viewed this also viewed…” along with a list of links to other popular sites/stories, many of which might have nothing to do with Windows Vista. This last piece would help me better understand what other topics and articles Windows Vista fans are interested in. It would probably also go a long way in helping me avoid that overly narrow focus I mentioned above.

So how in the world is ESPN helping push me more away from the print side to the online side? Well, after being a loyal print subscriber for the past several years, my service was abruptly discontinued when I missed the renewal payment deadline. I figure I’ve got too much to read already and I shouldn’t bother with the renewal now that they’ve cut me off. But, I couldn’t resist giving them some friendly advice: The next time a regular customer with a long track record of on time payments misses a renewal deadline, they might want to send one last, free copy along with a note saying something like, “Hey, we know you’re busy and you love our magazine. We’re giving you an extra one-issue grace period to pay us for your renewal.” Heck, I would have picked up the phone that day and given them my credit card number. Instead I now feel like I’ve been tossed out into the street. At least I’ve still got my Sports Illustrated subscription to keep me happy in the offline world.


Tom Collins

I share your concerns about the conflicting needs to focus on the new stuff you know need to know about, while making sure you get exposed to the new and old stuff you don't yet know you need to know about. One tool that offers some of the features you mention is Bloglines.

The name might have you thinking it's limited to blog-watching. But it will connect you to any online information source that has an RSS feed and it also has some really cool things like:

- "view the 200 most popular feeds;"

- "see what the Top Links in the blogoshpere are buzzing about today;"

- occasionally prompting you automatically with something along the lines of "we've noticed from your activity that you might be intersted in these feeds (with a list of links and brief descriptions);

- allowing you to create ongoing keyword searches;

- weather updates;

- package tracking;

- "email this" and "tell a friend" tools;

and lots more. Bloglines ceertainly isn't the only way to do RSS tracking. But it's free (for now) and the acquisition by Ask Jeeves will likely help expand its focus even further beyond RSS.

BTW, in case this sounds too much like an ad, I'm just a happy user, without any affiliation to Bloglines.

Jim Minatel

Joe: I'm stunned by ESPN the Mag's treatment on missing a payment deadline. Are you sure you didn't do something else to tick them off, say something mean about Dan Patrick's hair?
Seriously, for most print mags the cost of acquiring a new subscriber is many multiples higher than the cost of the yearly subscription. Compared to the cost of retaining a customer, the new subscriber acq cost is killer, which is why most mags send you a few grace copies after the payment deadline to try to keep you on the circulation list. They'd rather have you as a "subscriber" for free for a few months than lose you and lose counting you as a subscriber for their advertisers.

Which goes back to, what did you say bad about Dan patrick? Or was it Dickie V and his praise of The General that set you off? :)

Joe Wikert

Tom, thanks so much for your suggestion. I'm embarassed to say that I've been a Bloglines user for many months now but have only used it as an RSS reader. I didn't bother looking at the other features it has to offer. Rest assured I'll give it a go tonight!

Jim, I'm totally with you on the cost of acquiring a new subscriber. I was stunned that they didn't bother to salvage this. I promise you I had nothing bad to say about Dan Patrick's hair or Dickie V's lack of same. The General?! Holy cow! That goofball hasn't crossed my mind in years!

Robert Nagle

Actually, many of the big mags have gone to an "opt out" subscription model. Instead of a yearly subscription, you pay for a continuous subscription with the option to cancel whenever you want.

Here's the kicker: these "continuous subscriptions" are 20-25% cheaper per year than the regular subscriptions. That saves you the trouble of having to remember when subscriptions are expiring and renewing at the right time. I can't remember offhand which publications are doing it, but Atlantic Monthly is definitely one of them.

On another note, mag websites have saved companies lots of money by automating payments and subscriber services (change of address, etc).

Joseph A. di Paolantonio


most online and desktop syndication feed readers, like bloglines and Newsgator, will give you extra features, tracking those items that folk are reading, clicking and commenting. Newsgator also has some nice search customizations through which I've found some interesting news.

You might also try the current affairs and technical versions of memeorandum; the URLs are, respectively,

Another, rough, beta variation on this theme is TaiRank


Dan B.

ESPN moved me to more online reading too, but for a different reason. A few years back I subscribed to their Insider package (a few bucks a month) mainly to use their site lines -- an aggregation of articles on each team. Since then, I've gotten in the habit of going straight to the usual suspects the morning after a game to get my Warriors fix. But I've stuck with the insider package because (1) it's cheap enough to fly below the radar and (2) they've got just enough insider-only content on their site that I would feel the loss. Meanwhile, they've gotten something like $100 from me over the last few years, which is $100 more than any other content site.

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