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Toronto Public Library Now Lets Users Download Free Magazines

Digital versions of popular magazines are free for the taking on TPL's website.

A screenshot of Toronto Public Library’s Zinio portal, as it appeared earlier today.

Here’s a little good news to start your Friday: there’s no longer any need to pay for The Economist. (Unless, that is, you want a paper copy.)

That’s because Toronto Public Library is giving users a new way of downloading current issues of more than 300 different magazines.

The service is being offered through a third-party provider called Zinio, which runs an online magazine portal. A user goes to TPL’s website, enters a library card number along with a login and password, and then it’s just a matter of finding the right magazine.

The selection is limited, but it includes some solid titles. Along with the previously mentioned Economist, users can check out The Walrus, Bloomberg Businessweek, Maclean’s, and a bunch of other magazines, both great and obscure—though mostly obscure.

The magazines display as scanned replicas of the print versions. They can be viewed on both computers and mobile devices.

Only current issues are available, but once you download a magazine you can keep it for as long as you want.

Users looking for back issues of magazines will have to get them the traditional way: by searching the library’s text-only databases.


  • B P Gallucci

    How does compensation back to the magazines work? Seems like it would have to be / should be a different model than providing the library a single paper copy which can only be read by one person at a time — downloading and keeping the magazine seems quite different.

    • Joe Clark

      The jurisprudence on that issue is mixed, but you could look at U.S. rulings (especially the one involving National Geographic) that held that unaltered full-content archives can be disseminated without copyright infringement.

      In any event, there is surely a licensing fee being paid to Zinio and then to publishers. I doubt we could get our hands on the actual dollar values involved. But I wouldn’t expect a per-copy royalty to flow back to magazine publishers (which effectively means an oligopoly of megacorporations like Condé Nast and Hachette).

  • OgtheDim

    I’m surprised that there is not a limit to how many can access an issue and for how long. The revenue for the mags is not there with this model like it is with online books now available through the Library.

    • Joe Clark

      You should be happy there is no pretence of scarcity. Library E-book licensing is almost a worst-case scenario of licensing printed works (close rival: university site licences for academic periodicals).

      • OgtheDim

        Library online scarcity has at least the pretense of getting money per unit looked at into the bank account of an author.

        • Joe Clark

          Ask your author friends what their contracts say and what their actual participation in library E-books is. (Prediction: Nil.)

  • Joe Clark

    If we define “magazines” as large DRM-laden PDFs that, in the normal course of events, are viewed in their natural portrait orientation on your landscape-orientation monitor, then yes, these are indeed “magazines.”

    The Zinio platform has been an abomination since the beginning. Among many other faults is the lack of accessibility.

    I would like to remind you Millennials, who assume everything must and will be put online, that some forms of content are better than others and that “I can read it just fine” is no kind of endorsement. What an “online magazine” really is remains up for discussion, but PDF outputs of a print magazine certainly don’t cut it.

    • vampchick21

      Translation: GET OUTTA MY SWAMP YOU KIDS!!!!

      • dsmithhfx

        Those no-account Millennials are ruining it for everyone. Why can’t they just go play on their skateboards, and leave our Zoomer magazines alone?

        • vampchick21

          How dare they have preferences, likes and a lifestyle different from mine! *shakes cane*

        • Testu

          He’s being a dick about it, but he has a point.

          Static PDFs comprised of page scans really only work on a large display at their native size. They aren’t usable on small portable devices and they’re useless to vision impared people who use screen readers.

          The idea is to make the content more accessible, images of scanned pages kinda’ miss the mark.

          • dsmithhfx

            Have you tried it? You might find your assertions to be false.

          • Testu

            I might, I haven’t yet tried the service offered by TPL and Zinio. However the article says “The magazines display as scanned replicas of the print versions”.

            I have used scanned print-resolution PDFs on a tablet before. They’re fine for standard size type, but anything smaller generally has to be zoomed into to be readable. They also basically only work in portrait orientation, one page at a time. Things like two-page spreads are awkward to read at best.

            And of course, anything that doesn’t have select-able text (e.g. page images only) doesn’t work with a screen reader.

            I’m not saying the content shouldn’t be digitized, I’m saying that to make the content accessible in a digital format you need to do more than just offer an image of each page.

        • Joe Clark

          No, why can’t they learn about Web standards, now 20 years old? Semantic HTML beats every other format for online text and graphics. (In some guise, you’re reading it now.)

          Or would you prefer the Flash version of the Torontoist?

          • dsmithhfx

            Zinio is trying to have it both ways. Which, if you actually tried the current incarnation, you would know renders your arguments irrelevant. Also… magazines aren’t dictionaries or phone books. Learn the difference.