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updated 11/3/2008 3:58:35 PM ET 2008-11-03T20:58:35

There was a time, not so long ago, when the towering piles of old magazines filling the corners of my apartment gave me a strange but definite kind of joy. I’d look toward a stack of wrinkly New Yorkers — from a subscription spanning 2001 to the present day — or a collection of shiny Gourmets —purchased sporadically, not a subscriber — and feel the potential of the stories I’d yet to read, the recipes I’d yet to concoct.

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As the piles grew, the magazines came to symbolize a new, more informed, increasingly knowledgeable me. Sure, there was a thick layer of dust on my collection of Wireds, and my Yoga Journals had become warped by a mysterious leak, but I was confident that I would one day find the time to leisurely leaf through these back issues.

That time never came, but the complaints did. My husband begged me to relieve our tiny apartment of these space-eating magazine monsters, but I brushed him off, claiming that I needed them for “research.”

“What exactly are you researching?” he snarled as he stepped over a leaning, slippery heap of Esquires. And though I, too, was secretly beginning to doubt the practicality of such periodical pack-ratting — hoarding old magazines seemed not unlike cluttering your closet with outdated articles of clothing in hope that they will become stylish once again — I wouldn’t admit defeat until I began to see things from a greener perspective. I started to wonder what would happen to these magazines if I decided to rid myself of them, and an even bigger lingering question had me considering the fate of the billions of magazines that were surely left unsold each month or week.

Luckily, it turns out that I wasn’t the only one considering the environmental impact of the magazine industry. Some extremely innovative and forward-thinking folks were also looking for ways to keep people reading without damaging the planet. The result is Zinio, a company that allows readers to access their favorite magazines digitally. Users can turn the pages of each publication as if they were holding a hard copy. The photos pop, the text can be zoomed into easily and the planet benefits immensely. They call it “green reading.” I call it cool.

Rich Maggiotto, Zinio’s CEO, recently gave me the scoop on this new way to read.

Q: Today it’s possible to green your home, your mode of transportation and even your wardrobe, but how do you green the way you read?

A: The numbers tell the story best: Twelve billion magazines are printed on paper in the United States each year. Of all those titles you see on newsstands around this country, only about 30 percent of them actually sell. Those that don’t sell — the remaining 70 percent — are shipped to landfills or incinerators. Even among those that are read, 90 percent of magazines are discarded within a year. And only about 20 percent of magazines are recycled. All in all, the industry has a massive carbon footprint — in this country alone, it has been estimated that they’re responsible for the emission of 13 billion pounds of greenhouse gases annually. Yet it’s a global problem. If you think about it in terms of global natural resources, not to mention the additional energy expenditures necessary to turn trees into magazine paper, you can see how it might be necessary to find a greener alternative.

So, Zinio has devised a way of getting the same exact content you would get from a paper magazine or book without using any paper — by going digital! With the digital model, we’re intent on reducing the expenditure of natural resources, but at the same time can reach an unlimited number of readers worldwide. It’s a sustainable choice. In fact, we’ve launched a program called The Read Green Initiative that’s making it easy to try it out yourself — we’re giving away free one-year subscriptions to the digital magazine of your choice.

Q: When did you start Zinio? Was there a particular moment in time when you realized that there was a need for this service?

A: Zinio came to life about seven years ago with the realization that there were several converging forces at work. I’d worked for AOL in the ’90s and was amazed by the power the Internet had to transform lives. Globally, we were becoming increasingly plugged in and connected to one another. Everyone was becoming computer literate, and fast. Devices were becoming appendages. At the same time, a generational shift was happening. Kids born during the Web’s early years were destined to grow up with the expectation that all content would be available immediately and online — we affectionately now call them “screenagers.” I became convinced that every form of media would eventually be getting a digital makeover. With the ecological impact of magazines, they seemed like a perfect candidate.

Q: Why should the average magazine reader go digital? What are the environmental benefits?

A: For readers, going digital means a combination of environmental responsibility and a superior reading experience. There are both direct and indirect environmental benefits of tree-less reading. An indirect benefit, for example, would be if you don’t receive a paper version of your magazine in the mail, that means you also lessen the footprint of the transportation process involved in getting it to you, which saves fuel and reduces carbon emissions. In addition, the digital model provides added benefits that you can’t get from a print publication — interactivity when your static pages actually come to life; immediate delivery, as you will get your issue before it even hits newsstands; global selection from thousands of titles across the globe; “searchability,” because you can search inside any of your magazines for a keyword or phrase — eliminating the “where did I read that?” question we always ask; bookmarking and “post-it”-like features; and instant 24/7 access to your personal archives, not to mention their portability.

Q: How does Zinio work exactly?

A: We’ve tried to keep the process as simple as possible. If you go to our global newsstand at www.zinio.com, you can choose any magazine title we offer (current or past issues), preview any issue you want and purchase a single issue or annual digital subscription. In seconds you’ll be reading. At any point, you can either read directly online while connected to the Internet or by using our offline reader, which is simple to download. The desktop widget will alert you automatically when your next issue arrives. Reading this way is fun and simple. To turn a page, just click your space bar or the corner of the digital page. You can search any content inside the magazine, take a note or even highlight content you love. Best of all, you can share that page with your friends. If you have an iPhone or an iTouch, selected content is already available for use for free. 


Q: Do books pose an environmental challenge as well? How does Zinio work with the book publishing industry?

A: Any form of reading material that is paper-based faces the same issues of waste, from magazines to catalogs to even books. Zinio is very aware of the possibilities inherent in digital book publishing. We sell digital destination guidebooks for Rough Guides; we have a partnership with Barnes & Noble for their “See Inside” the book program; and we have a textbook e-store where we have partnered with leading textbook publisher McGraw-Hill. Together, we offer college textbooks at up to 50 percent less than what a college student would typically pay buying them new at the college bookstore. We’ve also created a free library of digital versions of the classic works of literature, like “Aesop’s Fables,” “Little Women,” “Moby-Dick” and “Beowulf.”

Q: What about those readers who are not yet ready to give up the experience of flipping through the pages of a magazine or book? Or those who are not prepared to sacrifice the convenience of purchasing a publication for a plane ride or daily commute? How can they be enticed to go digital?

A: We don’t expect that reading on a screen will be for everyone today. We are aware, however, that consumer habits are changing, and the migration to screens is undeniable. Digital technology is changing the lives of every consumer. The convergence of technological, environmental and generational forces will continue and will even escalate as flexible and scrollable display technologies are introduced. This is at the core of the e-paper movement, and we are not too far away from this reality. Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPhone are mere early entrants into what is certain to be the golden age of publishing.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.

Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.

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