Reviews

Readly review: is it worth £7.99 per month?

Readly
There's a lot to read on Readly
  • Magazine selection
  • Reading experience
  • Value for money

Readly verdict

A great value way to read a swathe of magazines electronically

Overall
4.5

Pros

  • Excellent app 
  • Wide selection of UK and international magazines
  • Superb search facility 

Cons

  • Can magazines survive on Readly revenue alone if it grows as popular as Spotify? 

I’ve spent my professional life writing for magazines and newspapers. I love print – the feel of it, the smell of it, the doesn’t-matter-if-I-drop-it-in-the-bath of it. But, I’m a dying breed; magazine sales have been heading south for decades now. So can Readly do for magazines what Spotify has done for music?

Readly is an all-you-can-eat digital magazine subscription. For £7.99 per month, you can read any of the hundreds of magazines in its catalogue – and not just from the UK, but international titles too. There’s no shortage of big-name titles, but what’s the reading experience like? And how does it compare to rivals such as Apple News+ and Kindle Prime Reading? Here’s my review.

A few things to note before you read on, just to put all my cards on the table:

  • I write for several of the publications listed on Readly, but I don’t earn a direct commission for sales
  • I’ve been given a three-month free trial to test the service, but you too can get a one-month trial of Readly when you sign up (I earn no commission for this either!).

Readly review – selection of magazines

Readly could have the best reading experience in the world, but if the magazine and newspaper selection was poor, it would be entirely redundant. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

Obviously, reading tastes are subjective, but there’s a wide sweep of the magazine newsstand available on Readly, with hundreds of titles on offer. In fact, the choice can become quite overwhelming, so it’s handy that Readly allows you to ‘favourite’ magazines and hive those off into a separate section of the app so that you can easily find new issues of your favourites.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find both well-known and more niche titles in my spheres of interest. For example, in football there’s both the newsstand staple FourFourTwo and the more esoteric The Blizzard and The Non-League Paper. There’s a wide selection of photography magazines, as well as one-off guides to specific bits of kit and software. The same goes for the tech sphere, where you’ll find titles such as ComputerActive, PC Pro and Wired as well as guides to things such as the Raspberry Pi and Ubuntu.

If I have one criticism of the mag selection, it’s that a lot of premium titles are absent. The New Scientist, The Spectator, Private Eye, The Economist and the UK version of The Week are not here, for example. Nevertheless, there’s more than enough decent reads to justify the subscription.

The newspaper range is less impressive. When it comes to UK broadsheets, you’ve got The Independent, The Guardian and its stablemate The Observer, and that’s about it. There’s a wider selection of tabloids if you want to catch up on the latest Prince Harry/Love Island gossip.

Overall, I’d say the choice is far wider than what you get with Apple News+ and Amazon Prime Reading. Apple+ has The Times and The Wall Street Journal on board, Amazon has no papers, so Readly offers the best all-round reading package when it comes to pure content.

The Readly reading experience

When it comes to sitting down and ploughing through your pile of digital magazines, the Readly reading experience is excellent.

I do the majority of my reading on an iPad Pro, as I find phone screens too small for reading anything other than short articles. Readly has high-resolution scans of every mag I’ve read so far, so you can pan around the pages and read as if you had the magazine flopped out on your lap in front of you.

If you prefer, however, there’s the option to enter a reader view for every article, where you simply get the plain text and the images. I find this easier for reading long articles, especially if they’re spread over multiple mag pages.

Readly
The reader view makes it easier to read long articles

The experience of flicking through a mag to find something you want to read is also retained, to some degree, with a thumbnail section that appears at the bottom of the page, allowing you to scan through. The thumbnails could perhaps be a bit bigger, but they’re just about big enough to get the gist of the main article on a page.

Wired on Readly
The thumbnails are just big enough when scanning a mag’s contents

I much prefer this hybrid approach to that of Apple News+, where everything is re-formatted in its own style, meaning almost all sense of a magazine’s identity is lost.

There are three other things I really like about Readly:

  1. The search facility is magnificent. You can enter terms such as “iPad Pro review”, for example, and get instant results showing reviews from a range of different publications, which is great when you’re looking for opinions on whether to buy something or are looking for help on specific topics.
  2. The ability to fill in crosswords. The interface for this isn’t perfect – it doesn’t automatically skip over letters you’ve already entered, for example, but it’s great to be able to do The Guardian Quick Crossword on a coffee break, and it means all those puzzle mags in the library are usable.
  3. Offline reading is neatly handled. When you click on a mag, it automatically downloads that issue, so if you’re heading off on a train journey you can select three or four titles and know you’ll have plenty to read, even if you can’t latch onto to Wi-Fi or a 4G signal.
Crosswords on Readly
You can even fill in the crosswords

Readly Review verdict: worth the money?

The question I posed at the top is whether this is worth £7.99 per month. My answer: unquestionably. A couple of magazines per month would easily cost you £8, let alone the newspapers thrown in too. I’ve really enjoyed being able to wade through mags that I definitely wouldn’t buy every month, but might read an article or two from.

My one question mark over Readly is the same one I have with Spotify et al – how much of the revenue goes back to the magazines/publishers? I genuinely don’t know, this is all dealt with in confidential arrangements with the publishers, but I’m 99% sure it won’t be anywhere near the revenue they get from a standard print subscription to their individual magazines.

So, if there’s a magazine or two you cherish, I’d urge you to remain a loyal print subscriber. I don’t think any magazine survives on Readly revenue alone. But for the vast swathe of the newsstand that you wouldn’t buy anyway, Readly will not only put some extra income in their coffers, it will give you a swathe of great reading material in a very slick app.

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About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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