How to check out free Zinio digital magazines from your library

If your library allows it, you can enjoy endless magazines on your phone, tablet, or PC -- all at no charge.

Public libraries are so awesome. (Thanks, Ben Franklin!) They let you borrow not only physical books, DVDs, and the like, but also digital content like e-books and audiobooks.

An iPad offers the single best Zinio reading experience.
An iPad offers the single best Zinio reading experience. Zinio

And, now, digital magazines, too. Many libraries have partnered with Zinio to offer e-zines you can check out and read on a variety of devices. As a big fan of doing exactly that on my iPad, I was excited to discover that my local library (here in metro Detroit) is now offering this awesome option.

To get started, consider where and how you want to consume these magazines. To my thinking, the best bet by far is an iPad 3 or 4, as Zinio's iPad app supports Retina Displays -- and when it comes to digital magazines (which are essentially scanned images of the print version), you want the highest pixel count (and largest screen) you can get.

That said, Zinio is also available for Android, iPhone, Kindle Fire, and PC/Mac. Personally, I find magazine consumption on a computer -- even one with a high-resolution screen -- to be awkward and uncomfortable. There's too much zooming and scrolling to accommodate content that's meant to be viewed in a portrait -- rather than landscape -- orientation.

Phoenix Public Library

Next, visit your local library's Web site (via your desktop browser, not any of the Zinio apps) to see if there's any mention of Zinio. If so, you'll need your library card number and password to get through the registration process, which should be accessible via that site. The process typically involves creating an account with RB Digital, the service that manages magazine loans for libraries.

With that done, check your inbox for an activation e-mail from RB Digital. It should include a link that verifies your account; click it to open your browser, then look for a link that says "Return to Login."

If you're lucky, your library will offer a page like this.
If you're lucky, your library will offer a page like this. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Now you should be looking the available catalog of magazines, the size of which can vary from one library to another. (Mine, for example, offers around 200 titles -- well short of the thousands Zinio offers, but a very good mix of the stuff I like to read.)

Once you find something you like, just click the cover. Now you'll need to either create a Zinio account or sign in to an existing one. With that done, you should see a "Complete Checkout" button for the selected magazine. Click it, then head to your Zinio app, sign in, and presto: free digital magazine! Wash, rinse, and repeat for other titles you want.

This process may vary a bit depending on your library, and if your setup is like mine, you'll be limited to the latest issue of any given magazine -- no back issues, and no option to autosubscribe to future issues.

Still, the price is right, so it's hard to complain about a little hoop-jumping.

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