I’ve largely stayed away from e‑books. Those that I have purchased were with the understanding that they are largely disposable. That is, I don’t expect them to be useable in ten years.

My feelings about e‑books have been an affectionate embrace compared to my feelings about electronic magazine subscriptions. Those are a disaster. Some involve each issue being a downloadable application for your mobile device, having each issue loaded into a custom mobile application. Either way, you’re not free to move them around and use them as you please.

That’s what I expected when I investigated the electronic subscription offered by Scientific American. I’m happy to report that my expectations were dashed.

20110815_sciamFirst, the magazine issues are PDF files. Read them on your computer or on any mobile device that will display the file format. The choice is yours. The files themselves are not crippled to restrict how you use them. PDF files do have a built-in document restriction feature that allows the author to disable certain functions. In this case, you can not reassemble the document, change the document, or extract pages. You can add comments, copy content, and print the document. That’s all fine by me. I can still view them in any PDF reader and copy them as I please.

Additionally, the publisher seems to have given careful thought about how to convert the paper magazine to the PDF format. You can copy or search the contents of the articles, but they’ve left the ads as graphics. Even the text in the ads are graphics. This could be an inconvenience if you’d like to copy ad text, but it’s an excellent trade-off for preventing ads from polluting text searches. Brilliant!

Second, a yearly subscription is not merely for 12 issues of the magazine. What they’ve done instead is allow subscribers access to the electronic archive for a year. Of course, they’ll add 12 issues to the archive over the course of the subscription, but the archive also contains all the Scientific American issues published since 1993. You may download complete issues or individual articles.

The electronic subscription is $3 more than the Canadian price for the paper magazine, $39.95 versus $37, but as much as I rail against spending more for what I think should be cheaper, the electronic version does have advantages that I feel are worth the premium.

I signed up as soon as I understood what I’d be getting.

Magazine cover © 2011 Scientific American