Why Digital Replica Editions Aren’t Best for Older Readers

Zooming out on the real reason your digital magazine readers don’t want a digital replica edition

I love technology! I hate technology! I love technology! I hate technology!

This was my inner dialog recently, ready to throw my iPhone against the wall while reading a blurry page of The New Yorker.

Now, if you’re not at the age, eh, eye discrepancy yet, take a moment to imagine how your parents feel. Or your grandparents, if you’re still lucky enough to have them around.

Place yourself in their shoes: you are at the age where you’re kind of set in your ways, yet haven’t completely lost the will to progress through this wonderful (yet frustrating) age of technological advancement. And those that have seen their parents read a digital replica edition of their favorite magazine on a tablet—time and again—find them zooming in on the page, and then manically swiping the page up and down and left and right to make it through a single sentence. It is hard enough that some pages are simply fuzzy, but it is even worse when you are losing your eyesight.


See, a digital replica edition, if you’re not yet familiar, is a copy of your magazine, typically a PDF. Imagine opening a PDF on your tablet, and there aren’t many bells and whistles beyond that.

According to the American Optometric Association, many adults experience difficulty seeing things at a close distance–with emphasis on reading or accomplishing computer tasks–beginning in their early to mid-forties.

The AOA defines this condition as presbyopia, a disorder where the eye’s lens is less flexible and causes adults to lose sight of their near vision. This is also something that progresses over time as other health issues arise.

So how does this apply to publishers that produce digital replicas of a magazine? I am so glad you asked!

The first thing to take into consideration is the fact that pages of the digital replica must be created and formatted to fit into the tablet. This automatically minimizes the text on the screen, ultimately straining an older person’s already deteriorated vision.

Some would argue, “But you know you can zoom in, right?!”

Well yes, but why should you have to? It’s the equivalent of using a magnifying glass to read the newspaper, and this is the digital age, people!

Zooming in is frustrating for the reason I stated earlier in this piece: you will have to swipe all around your tablet to complete a full sentence. It’s not rocket science, nor is it hard manual labor; but it is inconvenient, nonetheless, for a hobby that is supposed to be relaxing.

Ah, sitting back and relaxing with a good ‘ol digital magazine. Until you’re not.

Relaxing is a difficult feat to overcome when you are filled with frustration toward your device. An older reader should not be focusing on how to maneuver their tablet; they should absorbing information about the article they are reading. It’s good for them, and it’s good for you.

Plus, presbyopia also makes it problematic when facing different forms of light. The AOA states that the condition causes light entering the eye to be scattered rather than focused on the retina, creating more of a glare.

Obviously, a digital replica requires a reader to be looking at a lit screen for a large portion of time. Reading printed pages is automatically less irritating to the eyes, and using a digital replica will only provoke presbyopia over a period of time.

There is also a chance that many pages of a digital replica are not completely clear, which is something readers of all ages have experienced at one point. If a magazine is uploading PNGs, it challenges iPad users to try and read a pixelated page.

And even though PDFs may be more clear, it does not change the fact that your digital replica does not use scrollable text. This, of course, is bothersome for more than 50% of digital subscribers who need this function to engage in their reading.

We know that these kinds of apps and advancements are not going away; however, it is our duty to keep subscribers and readers of all ages in mind when building a digital replica edition of a magazine. Or perhaps, as we’d recommend, upgrading to a reflow plus which we’ve always dubbed “easy on the eyes.”

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you prefer to use a tablet or read your favorite magazine in print? Share your thoughts in our comments section!


    Have to agree entirely – not that I yet have this problem. However, it is very annoying and often very difficult to zoom into a page and then seek to follow the article easily. We have to learn to be more succinct in our writing, making the page exciting to visit in other ways, whilst still providing written information people want. All too many online magazines are merely copies of the printed version – they should offer so much more!


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