140 magazines for five bucks

Now this is something I’d pay for: a service that allows you to search and access over 140 publications online [linked off Ben Hammersley’s weblog]. The price? Less than five American dollars a month. No ads, no dead trees. And it comes with a seven-day free trial that doesn’t require your credit card number.
You might think, that’s easy! These magazines would provide the same articles online, for free. That ain’t necessarily so. A visit to Esquire magazine’s website, for instance, brought up 0 hits on ‘Schwarzenegger’, while Keepmedia offered a July 2003 article from the same magazine. It appears that the publications included in this service are the ones that generally don’t put everything online (duh).
You also get a vast array of professional and trade publications so specialised, I never knew they existed until I signed up for my free trial. Genomics & Proteomics, anyone? Well, actually, they do have something I want: Electronic Musician. [Update: I just discovered that EM has revamped its website and now has its own archives starting from 1999. So much for that!]
The search engine is decent, though it can be more sophisticated. It churns up accurate results, but won’t tell you which page of the article your search term appears in, which meant I had to do a keyword search in my browser, skip to the next page, and repeat until phrase in question was found. You can however fine-tune your search by publication, topic or date. Alongside the article you’re reading, it displays more ‘Suggested articles’ of relevance, which is helpful. You can also add articles to your personal list, and attach a note to an individual article. That would be useful for researchers.
However, as the site says, you won’t get breaking news, but archives from previous months. In that sense it’s better for people who want information on topics which don’t require the very latest information. I get all my tech news online elsewhere, anyway, and for free.
The other thing you don’t get with this online service, are photographs. So you might still be better off with the tree version of your publication if it is highly image-dependent. They should consider PDF versions for some magazines, because mags like Interior Design don’t feel quite right without photographs. Of course, PDF files take up bandwidth, and it may be too troublesome obtaining and processing the files from design houses.
All in all, the service is very much a print-to-HTML text conversion. Don’t expect to see hyperlinks in the content, as opposed to the fare offered in Wired magazine online (naturally, Wired is not included in this service). Then again, there’s nothing you can’t Google for.
I’m going to test out its features in full over the next week. Assume the best if you don’t hear from me again.
[Update 20/8/03: I’ve found a rival.]