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Dear [insert crime fiction magazine name here],

[…or for that matter any poetry journal, literary mag, local newspaper or community newsletter that insists on using Issuu]

Maybe this letter will be filed away under “Space Cadets” but here goes anyway.

You probably don’t know me from Adam. I don’t know you either. I’d love to, but a major reason I don’t know much about you is that your magazine uses Issuu.

You see, Issuu has issues. So many that I hardly know where to begin, and surely I’m not the only potential reader or contributor who has abandoned you because you’re using Issuu.

1. The Flash problem

First of all, Issuu uses Flash. I can’t read your pages on my iPad. It doesn’t do Flash.

iPhone users also have the Flash problem. You see, Apple hates Flash. Flash is clunky. It’s a battery hog. It’s insecure. It crashes. It’s slow. It has major security problems. The late Steve Jobs declared war on it in April 2010. And did I say it was insecure?

“Flash? Oh don’t worry about all that,” you say, “there must be an app for that.”

So I should drop everything I’m doing, go off to another site and download yet another special app for $4.99 in the vague hope that I might be able to begin to read your contents page to decide whether to continue reading the latest issue of your magazine? Now who’s being the space cadet?

A very old cartoon strip about space cadets

2. Big, small, wide, tall

Even if I could read your mag on, say, an Android phone, its screen is tiny compared with your big Issuu pages. You are so A4, and I am so… er…. A7.

Think about it: big page, small screen. In my country it might be called “a Father Ted moment”.

Even on a laptop and a standard web browser it’s seriously hard to read A4 magazines on Issuu. The laptop’s screen is wide. As in, it has a landscape orientation. That doesn’t mean it likes to go on dates with landscapes – it means… Look, most modern laptops or desktops have a 4:3 ratio (four units wide and three units tall) or 16:9.

In Issuu your mag’s pages have a portrait orientation, More like 3:4. Landscape laptop, portrait magazine page. Got that? And don’t give me some guff about double-page spreads.

I feel another Father Ted moment coming on: wide screen, tall page.

3. Unresponsive design

You’re not using responsive design either. You know, responsive design – where the layout and column widths and heading sizes and so on of a web page automatically adjust themselves to suit the device you’re on – whether it’s a desktop PC with a large screen or a tablet or a particular kind of mobile phone – and continue to make sense within your browser window even if you shrink it down.

I quite like responsive design. When it’s done properly it leaves me to get on with the reading.

That’s a major difference between responsive design and Issuu. In Issuu, the pages of your mag are like printed pages, or like a set of very large fixed images, the opposite of responsive.

If your mag was using web pages and responsive design I could have dived straight in. Instead you expect me to faff about with browser windows and resizing, panning and scrolling. And in the end the body type of your articles is still way too small and awkward.

4. The full-screen mode

So you say I should switch from my browser window to full-screen mode? This entails further, extra – no,  extraneous – clicks before I’ve even begun to read your magazine’s content.

And in full-screen mode there’s a different user interface, with unfamiliar controls. Each time I visit Issuu (which is less and less likely nowadays) I have to relearn these infernal controls. And in full-screen mode there’s yet more scrolling because of the wide-tall problem, and the body type of your pages is still too tiny and messy.

5. It’s inaccessible

But please don’t give me that argument that…

It’s all about making our magazine look good.

No. Your mag looks unreadable. Either the text is too small or I have to scroll back and forth like a drunken boat in an Atlantic gale.

I thought you were supposed to be about crime fiction, about words – not preoccupied with pretty pictures and fancy layouts. You should care about your stories – a good read in columns of text that are readable.

So you want your online version to ape a print-style presentation? I’ll let you in on a big secret: the Web and a printed page are fundamentally different media.

So you care about appearances sand want to stay “traditional” in that sense and think of your mag as having a “distinctive” or “exclusive” look?

On Issuu you are being exclusive alright. Exclusive in the sense that your mag is excluding a large potential readership on a wide range of devices, and many people with visual disabilities. Their screen-readers wouldn’t be able to handle your mag.

Quite simply: these infernal flipbooks such as Issuu aren’t screen-reader friendly.

Your mag on Issuu is unwieldy or downright inaccessible. It’s like a building that says “Sorry, I can’t have that nasty little wheelchair ramp cluttering up my main entrance because it’ll spoil the look of the building. Those steep old steps look far better and are traditional – they’ll do just fine. Now leave us alone.”

6. It’s actually a step backwards

Print and online media each have their own sets of pros and cons. Here are some examples of a few pros: on the web, unlike a printed page, you could have a few hyperlinks to other publications. And you can integrate media into your mag such as sound and video for author interviews).

Books are great. I love them. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. But they’re not the same as the digital screen. Yet Issuu ignores this. It’s trying to import the cultural baggage and interface of a previous technological era (print) while ignoring the fundamentals that this is a different medium (digital, screen, online).

Issuu is proccupied with looking backwards. It suffers from… oh let me use some fancy big words for a change… it has a surfeit of digital skeuomorphic design flaws. Skeuomorph: look it up on Wikipedia. Skeuomorphic as in trying to get electronic interfaces to mimic a real-world one, a physical magazine or book for example.

It’s a bit like someone trying to drive a car forwards by looking back through their rear-view window.

I don’t care if somebody on your editorial committee said “Let’s use something really clever like Issuu or Scribd because of the layout, because it makes a screen like a book, because of the page-flipping flipbook gimmick, because it’s the flipping bee’s knees”.

Sorry. It’s not. It’s not even the bee’s bottom. It’s trying to replicate the effects of having a large physical magazine on a small screen and it’s a pain in the bee’s bollocks.

Issuu has many other usability and accessibility issues to put off potential readers, so ask yourself why are you doing it.

Ask what’s wrong with using proper web pages to show off your wonderful content. Or, if you really really must, couldn’t you at least present your magazine’s content in a downloadable, usable, accessible PDF or two? Just – please please PLEEEASE – anything but Issuu.

Right, that’s it. Rant over.

Yours etc etc


PS you wouldn’t happen to fancy a couple of my short stories for your next issue?