Why people pirate (or, Science’s paywall sucks)

Doing things legally:

When I went to the AAAS meeting in February, I got a free subscription to Science magazine. Fresh from the Evolution 2012 meeting and motivated to keep up with the literature better, I click the big blue button in the weekly email to “Start reading now!” Except I can’t “start reading now.” First I have to set up an account with Zinio. After completing that mildly annoying step, I’m presented with a pretty page of Science magazine covers that flash “read now” when I moused over them. Terribly excited, I click on “read now.”

A blank window opens. “Maybe it’s just taking a second to load all those amazing high res science images,” I think. After several more seconds of inactivity, I close the stubbornly blank window and try again. It fails again. I play with my Firefox settings and extensions for 10 minutes, becoming increasingly frustrated with the blank window. I try in Chromium and get the same blank window, then go back to Firefox and fix my settings and extensions. I read through the help, but can’t find anything even related to browser problems.

Clearly, it isn’t going to work in a browser. I’ve now spent 20 minutes trying to open Science instead of reading Science.

Well, maybe I can download it as a pdf or something and read it? I find nothing as simple as a pdf but do discover a specific Zinio app you can use to download and read your subscriptions. Just what I want – a whole piece of software to read one magazine! But nevermind, I can’t actually use the app since it’s based on Adobe Air, which isn’t supported on any desktop Linux distribution. Of course, this doesn’t become clear until I spend several minutes trying to figure out why the installation fails partway through.

I send Zinio an email asking for help. I’ve now spent 35 minutes trying to open Science instead of reading Science.

I remember that I have a username and password for the the Science magazine site. I login and navigate to the table of contents for the issue I’m interested in. It’s just a bunch of titles and authors, a dull, largely uninformative list, not nearly as pleasant as paging through the magazine on Zinio would be. But I suck it up and open all the articles I want to read in new tabs. When I switch to those tabs to read, I’m greeted with another login screen. Apparently, the Science website doesn’t remember that I’m logged in on the table of contents tab. (Thank Firefox for remembering my password!) On article two or three, I get the following message:Fuck you Science

Huh? So the Science website does remember that I’m logged in on the table of contents page, but thinks I’m using two browsers? If it remembers that I’m logged in, why does it keep asking me to login when I open articles in new tabs?

I refresh the page, login again, and I can see the article. Fuck, this is annoying/confusing.

I continue reading, logging in yet again for each new article I want to read. After reading 5 or 6 of the news and perspectives items, I’m so annoyed with having to sign in over and over that I give up.


I go to my favorite torrent site and search “Science magazine.” The most recent issue is the second search result; I click it. Once it downloads, I open it in my pdf reader of choice and switch to dual view so it’s just like reading a “real” magazine! I can even take notes and make highlights that are saved.


Summary of reading Science online using legal methods:

  • Total time spent trying to read Science legally: ~45 minutes.
  • Reading experience excluding frustrating technical issues: disjointed and not very pretty.
  • Reading experience including frustrating technical issues: I might cry.

Summary of pirating Science:

  • Total time spent trying to read a pirated copy of Science: ~2 minutes.
  • Reading experience: Incredibly pleasant, superior even to paper version.


  1. Dale Hoyt says:

    I agree with your opinion of Zinio. It’s clearly not perfected. Even after the lengthy wait for the download I frequently encountered pages that were corrupted or failed to complete. I finally gave up using it and just go to the AAAS current issue page for the TOC. I do sometimes get the same “multiple logins” error, but it is erratic. Instead of trying to open a bunch of papers in separate tabs I just open each one as I come to it in the TOC, read the abstract and then close the tab. Then I go to the next article. It’s a little slower, but it usually avoids the error you’ve described.
    Other magazines that I read online don’t suffer from Zinio’s problems. I wish AAAS would get another vendor for it’s online subscriptions.

    • Sarcozona says:

      I finally heard back from Zinio about my problems reading Science in my browser. I expected it to be solvable, but they told me that it just wouldn’t work on Linux at all. I thought the point of having it readable in a browser was for platform independence! GRRRRR

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