Subscribing to Mountain Bike Action: Time to go digital?

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We’ve subscribed to Mountain Bike Action magazine since the early 1990s. So when it began offering digital subscriptions a few years back, we leaped at the chance. It seemed perfect for our peripatetic lifestyle — either moving south for the winter or being away on mtb expeditions in the summer. We never seemed to be around when MBAction hit our mailbox.

Big mistake. Instead of posting the magazine on the Web, either in browser form or as a .pdf or some other Web-friendly format, Hi-Torque Publications went with proprietary software that simulated the print version of the magazine on the computer screen.

You might think that would be cool. But the software, Zinio Reader, was slow and buggy. You couldn’t flip through the magazine quickly. Even page ahead or page back tested the patience of Job. And the resolution was nothing to write home about.

Worst of all, though, the digital MBAction came late every month. When I subscribed, I figured hey, I’ll get it way faster than through the mail. And that’s what the ads (in the print version of the mag) promised: Timely delivery. It made sense: No printing and delivery overhead, no shuffling through the postal system. Anywhere I had an Internet connection, the theory went, I could download the latest issue.

Instead, what happened was that I would see the magazine on the stands without ever having received notification that the very same issue was available to me for download. (I was supposed to receive an email in my inbox.)

So I would go into the Zinio software and ask it to “search for publications.” Instead of informing me that the latest issue was available for download, I would get the infuriating message, “All your publications have been downloaded.”

So you can imagine the steam blowing out of my ears as I called the Zinio help line to complain.

To their credit, the Zinio folks were very helpful. A couple of times the publication actually WAS available, I just hadn’t been notified by email, which apparently has to happen even if the issue is ready in the Zinio system.

But I was also told on more than one occasion that the folks at Hi-Torque Publications had not yet made the digital version available for download. That part I never got. Once the rag is on the streets, it must be “available” in digital form. Yet Zinio insisted that they couldn’t send me the issue till they got it from Hi-Torque.

Me featured in Mountain Bike Action ... lower left screen, behind Volkswagen plume!

As a result, I dropped the whole online thing and went back to print. But the print world was not treating me kindly either. When I changed addresses, forwarding was spotty. And I really hated seeing MBAction on the stands in Bend or Lake Tahoe or wherever, knowing it was sitting in my mailbox at home.

Last summer, in advance of a move to California for 6 months, I decided to try Zinio again. And I’m glad I did.

Zinio’s software has been upgraded and is much faster. There’s a cool slider bar on the bottom of the screen that pops up thumbnails of each page you scroll over, letting you flip to the page you want to read. You can blow the mag up to fit your screen, even if it’s a 24-inch honker like mine. And the copy stays sharp.

So you can see things on the screen that you probably would miss in the mag. I actually found myself in a crowd shot illustrating a story about Whistler Crankworx — something that wasn’t possible in the print edition.

Best of all, I now get the issues before they make the newsstands. Generally I get the email notification the middle of the month; the issue hits the stands typically the third week of the month and often arrives in mailboxes even later.

Upshot: If you move around or otherwise live online, the digital version of Mountain Bike Action is a winner. I’ll be intrigued to see if I can download it on my new iPad, which is supposed to offer the killer format for digital magazines (Zinio has an app for the iPhone but as of this writing it MBAction isn’t included in the Zinio library). As much as I still like various things about print, including being able to pass it along to friends, I’m happy to report that you don’t lose much — and even gain benefits in resolution and timeliness — with digital Mountain Bike Action.

[Note: As with everything we review, we paid for our Mountain Bike Action subscriptions.]

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