Going paperless: eliminate stacks of paper by converting paper magazine subscriptions to digital subscriptions

When I began to go paperless, I came with a plan. I had the tools I needed to get started. I had a process in mind for handling paper that I received. I had some cool ideas. But it was my intention to go slowly. I wasn’t going to go through my existing filing cabinet in a week or a month and scan in all that old paper, in part because I almost never used it. I was going to proceed only with the paper that I dealt with on a daily basis and work from there. There was change I made, however, that allowed me to eliminate stacks of paper from my office almost at once:

I switched from paper magazine subscriptions to digital magazine subscriptions.

Rolling Stone on the iPad via Zinio

This one change probably eliminated more paper from my life each month than all my other efforts combined. The reason is pretty simple: I subscribe to half a dozen monthly science fiction magazines (I am, after all, a science fiction writer). Four of these magazines I received in the mail, totalling well over 600 pages/month of paper that would stack up on my desk. Add to that the fact that I have been a long-time subscriber to Scientific American, which also arrives monthly. For about three years, I’ve been a subscriber to New Scientist, which is a weekly science magazine — 51 issues each and every year! When I do the math, it turns out that each month I had something like 10 issues of magazines totalling somewhere around 1,000 pages of paper stacking up on my desk. Over the course of a year: that’s 12,000 pages!

And, of course, I wanted to keep the magazines. I didn’t want to throw them away when I was done because they were useful reference tools for me. That meant year after year, the magazines piled up.

When I finally decide to go paperless, I decided that I would begin switching my paper subscriptions to electronic subscription. I didn’t do this all at once. Instead, I waited for each paper subscription to come to an end and then I subscribed to the electronic version of the magazine. This is also a good opportunity to ask yourself if it is worth renewing your subscription at all. Are you reading the magazine or it just collecting dust? Over the course of the 2 years that I have been doing this, I now receive every single magazine I read electronically in digital format. There are no stacks of magazines on my desk. By those simple steps, I managed to get rid of 12,000 pages of paper each year. This made my wife happy, as the magazines were no more cluttering the house. And it made me happy because I could get them all in one virtual stack without lugging them around:

My “stack” of Analog SF on my Kindle App


I use my iPad for most of my magazine reading and I think this is the ideal format for such reading, but I recognize that not everyone like to read on screens. With this in mind, I thought I’d list some advantages and disadvantages of digital magazine subscriptions. And after that, I have some tips for how I made use of Evernote and Skitch with my digital subscriptions.

Advantages of digital magazine subscriptions

  1. You eliminate paper that might otherwise be cluttering your office, living room, bedroom, etc.
  2. The cost of a digital subscription is often the same (and sometimes less) than the paper subscription.
  3. You can keep as many back issues as you like without adding to your physical clutter.
  4. Digital subscriptions often (but not always) offer access to an entire back-list of issues.
  5. Digital magazines are searchable. It makes it easy to find what you are looking for.
  6. You can take all of your magazines with you wherever you go without loading yourself down with lots of weight.
  7. If you lose your digital copy, you can (usually) just download it back to your computer or device. Or restore it from backup.
  8. Digital copies of a magazine don’t get lost in the mail.
  9. Some magazines offer the digital issues earlier than the paper issues arrive on news stands or in mailboxes.

Disadvantages of digital magazine subscriptions

  1. The digital reseller’s database doesn’t always talk to the magazine’s database. So you may keep getting “please renew” messages, which can be annoying, because you have, in fact, renewed.
  2. Depending on the software you use to read your subscription, taking notes can be awkward (for instance, in Kindle App; note-taking works fine in iBooks).
  3. Not for you if you don’t like reading on screens.
  4. You can’t read your magazine if your device is out of power.
  5. It can be difficult to share your magazine with others. (Though not impossible, depending on your subscription.)
  6. Your particular magazine may not be available in digital format.

One caution I’d offer with digital subscriptions that I wasn’t aware of when I first started using them: some digital subscriptions are offered directly from the magazine; others are offered through resellers, like Zinio. Both give you essentially the same product, but I’ve found that if you can get the digital version straight from the magazine, there are often additional advantages, for instance, access to a library of past issues as part of your subscription. Keep this in mind when deciding which way to go. That said, Zinio has a very wide selection of magazines and they are great on the iPad. I currently get New Scientist, Discover, and Rolling Stone through Zinio and I’m very happy with all three of them.

Tips on using Evernote with your digital subscriptions

Here are some tips on how I use Evernote with my digital subscriptions:

1. A note for each subscription

When I subscribe to a magazine, I create a note in Evernote with all of the subscription information, including when the subscription is set to expire and whether I have it setup to auto-renew. This is convenient for those times when I need to look up this information. It’s nice to have it all in one place. I have a Saved Search that pulls up the notes for all of my subscriptions, which is also convenient.

2. Storing PDF copies

Some of my digital subscriptions–Scientific American, for instance–come as PDF files, which I then add to my Kindle App. This means that they are stored in Amazon’s cloud, but I go one step further. I create a PDF note in Evernote for each of the issues of the magazine that I get. This allows me to take advantage of Evernote’s search capabilities as well as have the PDF copy of the issues available outside Kindle app when and if I need them.


3. Notes on stories and articles

For reasons I can’t fully fathom, the Kindle App on iPad does not let you highlight or takes notes on magazines, the way it does on books. This is incredibly frustrating for someone who frequently highlights and makes notes on the things he reads. What I do in this case is create a note in Evernote for each story or article that I want notes on and I make the notes there, switching back and forth between the two applications with a multi-gesture swipe. Occasionally, I’ll simply grab a screenshot of the article I’m reading and then use Skitch to mark it up and add it to a note, annotating the note as needed:


Often times, this is where I’ll write reviews or notes for review on stories. And it is where a lot of ideas for stories get their start–particularly notes from articles I read in the science magazines.

4. Reference lists

I’ll create notes with lists of articles or stories that I want to reference in a blog post, review or article so that I can easily find them. I’ll note which magazine, which app, and what page I can find them on.

If you are looking for a quick way to eliminate a lot of paper, look no further than the magazines subscriptions you hold and ask yourself if you are a candidate for switching to digital subscriptions. Here are the three main places where I get my digital subscriptions:

  • Kindle App for iPad (subscribe to magazines via Amazon.com)
  • Apple Newsstand for iPad (for things like Time and The New Yorker).
  • Zinio for magazines like New ScientistDiscover, and Rolling Stone.


  1. Good idea, but I had the problem that a pdf (issue of a magazine) was 63 MB and I could not store it in a note because of the 60 MB limitation. What is the appropriate action to store this issue in evernote? If I create a zip file then I can maybe store it as a note but I will not be able to search in it.

    1. Michael, that would definitely be a problem. I haven’t run into that yet. So far all the issues of Scientific American that I’ve put into Evernote have been under the limitation. In the long run, my guess is that this is something Evernote will have to consider as they review the limits they apply to notes and uploads.

  2. Jamie,
    I love magazines and have always ripped out articles to save which has created a lot of paper to file and manage.

    I have been trying to switch some of my magazines to digital but I want to be able to “clip” an article or recipe, etc. and save it to Evernote.

    It doesn’t let me copy and paste.

    Can you give me more details on how to do that please?
    I am not familiar with Skitch.

    1. Sally, I think it depends on what app you use for magazines. For instance, in Zinio (which I use for reading New Scientist and Rolling Stone), I can do this in one of two ways. If the article is on or part of a single page, I’ll just grab a screenshot on my iPad and send the image to Evernote. If it is the full article that I want, I can switch to “text” mode for an article. In text mode I can copy/paste what I want or send the whole article to Evernote via email.

      1. Hi Jamie,

        I am using Magzter for my digital subscriptions. I have the same problem of clipping the articles with evernote web clipper. Also if I take a screen shot and want only a part of it how do I do that? Pasting the screen shot on penultimate does not help as a part cannot be cut.

        Await further advise.

        1. I typically grab the screenshot and then crop the screenshot to what I want (you can do this with the native Photo app on the iPad) and send the resulting image to Evernote.

    2. On my Mac Book Pro, I press File then print. when the preview comes up there is an icon in the lower left that says PDF. click on that and press Save to Evernote and in most cases the article you are viewing will save to evernote.

  3. Dear Jamie,
    Thanks for all your great tips. Following your example, I’ve implemented a paperless lifestyle during the past year, including switching to digital magazine subscriptions. However, I’m afraid i’ll be facing a “storage issue” on my iPad (15 Gig). I see my Evernote account growing in size (now 3 Gig). This, I can easily manage by being more selective with the notebooks for which I keep off-line copies on my device. However, I don’t see how I can avoid my Zinio app taking more and more space as I accumulate monthly issues of National Geographic and Discover. I have the same problem with Nature, which I read in its own app. To your knowledge, is there a way to keep copies of past magazine issues downloaded to Zinio outside of the app itself?
    Thanks again for your inspiring blog. Best wishes for 2013!

  4. 3. You can keep as many back issues as you like without adding to your physical clutter.
    4. Digital subscriptions often (but not always) offer access to an entire back-list of issues.
    7. If you lose your digital copy, you can (usually) just download it back to your computer or device. Or restore it from backup.

    Unfortunately, these advantages are not (entirely) true of Amazon Kindle digital editions. You can mark back issues to be “kept,” but this only applies on a per device basis. I’ve subscribed to several genre fiction magazines and they all limit your back issues to the last 7.

    You’d think that “keeping” them on your device would be enough to ensure that you’ll always have access to them, but you’d be wrong. Older back issues beyond the 7 stored on Amazon’s database are no longer accessible in your cloud Archive. So if, say, you have to do a factory reset on your mobile device or you buy a new one, you can’t download them.

    You can download the .azw files from your Amazon account and back them up on your computer. You’d think that’d be sufficient insurance against the aforementioned problems, but you’d be wrong again. If you transfer these files to your Kindle app folder on your tablet or phone (and I assume the relevant folder on a Kindle device), the Kindle app will recognize the files and display the covers but when you try to open them you’ll be greeted with a warning that the files are invalid and that you should remove them from your device and re-download them from your cloud Archive. But they’re no longer in your cloud Archive because Amazon doesn’t retain them (presumably because of contractual agreement with the publishers who are backward and concerned about copyright issues).

    So I hope you intend on keeping your current iPad and that it continues to function for a very very very long time.

    (Can you tell I’m upset with Amazon and the publishers after discovering this? Thank you for all of these excellent Evernote posts though.)

  5. This is a great topic as I too am wanting to go digital but want to keep articles, clippings, etc. Its really frustrating that these publishers, in all their enthusiasm for switching to digital formats, haven’t given this more thought. one would think they are digital subscribers too. thanks for the good ideas.

  6. Jamie I’m just getting started with Evernote and I’m finding your posts invaluable. One thing I can’t figure out though is how to do this…

    “but I go one step further. I create a PDF note in Evernote for each of the issues of the magazine that I get.”

    Could you please elaborate?

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