Digital dilemma: Should I purchase digital magazines for my library?

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I need your help! Has anyone replaced or supplemented their library’s print magazines with online subscriptions or apps?

The problem:

Importing magazines in English to China is EXPENSIVE! Last year, our library paid over $5000 for 52 total magazine subscriptions. That comes out to about $100 for each subscription! Many of these same subscriptions in the USA are $20-$40/year. They are expensive because we have to import all these magazines each month, and shipping to China ain’t cheap.

How much are magazines checked out in my library?

In the Senior School Library, only about 1% of all our checkouts are magazines. Our students do browse magazines in the library, but they do not check them out very often. Many of the checkouts we did have came from our Humanities teachers checking out The Economist.

Why I’m considering apps instead:

  • We have 16 ipads in our library, all of which sync to the same itunes account. I didn’t think you could sync that many to the same account, but apparently it’s possible. Not sure the implications for copyright here (especially in China, where copyright is more guideline than law), but it would seem that we could install all of the magazine apps purchased on each ipad. Right?
  • It’s much, much cheaper. Instead of $100 average per subscription, it’s maybe $30.
  • We get the magazines as soon as they are published. Not 6-8 weeks later when they finally arrive in the library.
  • No trees die from our magazine use. Paper trash is greatly reduced (although our old magazines go to the art dept anyway).
  • Are the magazine apps searchable? This would be another huge benefit not possible in print magazines.
  • E-magazines cannot be torn up or destroyed. We have the issues even if we stop subscribing. I can’t say that for our print issues now–if I cancel the print subscription, I give away the previous issues. Why would I keep them around to take up space I don’t have?
  • Added bonus–I won’t have to constantly pick those annoying little subscription cards up off the floor!

Other alternatives

Another option I’ve considered is downloading the free Kindle app and purchasing magazines via Amazon UK. I looked into buying Kindle books for our ipads a few months ago, and I know that we can register up to six devices to one Kindle account. We could load the Kindle app on 12 of the ipads and purchase two digital subscriptions of each magazine.
There is also Magzter, an online magazine vendor hailed by some as the “Netflix of magazines.” An individual subscription is $9.99. While I am sure that is different for school libraries, it would still very likely save us money.
Unfortunately, I just did an online chat with a representative who may or may not have been a bot. “Christine” seemed only interested in getting my phone number for someone to contact me. I asked for email communication three times, and she insisted that they needed a phone number so someone could call me. I absolutely hate talking to salespeople on the phone, especially when I just have questions and am unsure if I actually want to buy the product. I don’t have that kind of time during the school day, and I certainly don’t want to give them my personal cell phone number. If my school’s entire OverDrive account could be set up via email, I don’t see why Magzter can’t answer a few preliminary questions in email. Not a great first impression, Magzter. When your salespeople can use their email accounts to talk to potential customers, please let me know. I am still interested.
View my Magzter chat transcript
So I am curious if any librarian out there has done this before. I Googled it and found very little about libraries switching from print to digital magazines. OverDrive has magazines in the USA, but OverDrive magazines are not currently available to libraries in China.
Also, any experience with Magzter? Is their customer service as bad as my chat suggests? Am I being too hard on them?

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