Increasingly often, these days, I find myself picking up a magazine I subscribe to, starting to read, and then putting it aside with a sigh. The problem is simply that I do not see as well as I used to: as I’ve gotten older my eyesight has gotten worse in complicated ways, and the optometric arts only imperfectly compensate for these changes.
This creates more difficulties for me when reading magazines than when reading books, because the print is often smaller in magazines, and magazines, being larger than books, especially paperbacks, can be more awkward to hold. I can usually hold a paperback in one hand and move it closer or farther away, as necessary, until I find the right distance; and then when my hand gets tired I can switch to the other. Hardcovers are heavier and more awkward to hold, but their solidity allows them to be partially propped up — on my chest as I’m lying down, for instance — which makes the task of reading less of an upper-body workout. (Though Lord knows I need more of an upper-body workout, I don’t want to combine that with the act of reading.) But magazines are floppy, especially if they’re large-format — as are some of my favorites, including Books & Culture and The New York Review of Books — and I have to hold my hands farther apart to read them . . . It’s really starting to bug me.
And of course this is happening because the Kindle and the iPad have provided an alternative reading ergonomic: if book or magazine print seems small to me now, and I have to adjust my arm position to find the right distance from my eyes, I can never now forget that it is much, much easier to hold the thing to be read wherever it feels comfortable and simply adjust the size of the type. This knowledge that there is a Better Way intensifies the annoyance but is also a distraction — instead of focusing on the article to be read I’m thinking, “Why isn’t there a Kindle version of this magazine?” or “Now, why exactly did I subscribe to the print edition of this magazine?”
There are a great many people like me in this respect, and there will be more of them in the coming years. Any periodical that doesn’t have a very clear, very fast-developing plan to make itself available to e-reader and iPad users is going to be in a lot of trouble, and soon.