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Online-only interior design magazines take off Add to ...

Maybe you get your fix in the mail. Or perhaps you get a rush at the magazine stands.

But what if latest "glossies" weren't even available in print?

Witness the recent gush of slick, stylish and original interior design magazines. The catch is they're ONLY available online and the bonus is they're free.

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It's important to note: These aren't just cool websites or fancy blogs, but a convincing replication of the magazine experience. You get a highly stylized cover, a table of contents, professional photos of striking interiors, and yes, you get to 'turn' the page. Additional options include a bottom scroll with mini-images that allows you to see almost the entire issue at once, making it easy to jump to and from any particular section.

For the most part, the enhanced design of technology explains the rise of design magazines online. Improved, easy to use self-publishing software such as Issuu makes it possible for anyone to create a magazine, and tablets like the iPad make it more fun to experience. Of course to some, it will never be enough.

"I LOVE my house porn," Canadian design star Kimberley Seldon admits. She won't go without this month's print copy of her favourite magazine, warning, "you'll have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands." But that hasn't stopped Ms. Seldon from plunging into the online world with the recent launch of her own high-end digital bi-monthly, dabble.

The premiere issue ( www.dabblemag.com) introduces a mix of design, food and travel, with Ms. Seldon chatting it up with famous designer friends like Diane von Furstenberg. Just two hours after hitting the virtual shelves, a flood of 3,500 unique visitors crashed the site. A couple of weeks later, interest remains strong with 13,000 subscribers.

In this context, you're considered a subscriber if you submit your e-mail address, but it's not a necessity for viewing - it's just a sign-up to receive notification of new issues.

Canada is proving to be ahead of the curve on this Internet wave. A magazine devoted exclusively to ecologically conscious design, Pure Green Magazine (www.puregreenliving.com), is published by a husband-and-wife team out of Huntsville, Ont. For Jonathan and Celine MacKay, going digital is both enviro-friendly and budget-friendly. With none of the printing or overhead costs associated with traditional magazines, they can splash out with original spreads, such as the super glam energy-efficient home they feature from the Hollywood Hills.

Other magazines focus solely on local design. Tapping into the fascination with cool spaces designed by the people who live in them - not by professional designers - Covet Garden ( www.covetgarden.com) receives 250,000 unique page views every month. Each issue features just one Toronto home and averages 20 pages in length.

"We're not obligated to fill a certain number of pages for advertisers, so you get quality - not filler," founding editor Lynda Felton says. Ms. Felton points out another advantage of online-only publication: immediacy. Last-minute additions or corrections are easy to add, keeping the content more current than print magazines. Another asset is the easy access to past issues, meaning no more stockpiles in your home collecting dust.

All of that still only scratches the surface when it comes to benefits. Consider Chicago-based Rue ( www.ruemag.com). Co-founded six months ago by Crystal Gentilello and Toronto native Ann Sage, Rue has logged more than 32 million page views with its first three issues. The massive response has been due in large part to the magazine's unique coverage of, and contributions by, design bloggers around the world. They've helped to spread the word.

All the bells and whistles have added to the appeal. You have the option of watching colourful short videos imbedded within the pages. You can also download freebies, such as specially designed stationery. They even give you playlists to listen to while browsing through the pages. It's a lot of bang for no buck. But is it actually free?

All magazines present a trade-off: you get eye candy, and advertisers get your eyeballs.

But online magazines can take you one step closer to making a purchase. If you see something you like, you click on the image and connect directly to the product website to buy it immediately.

It's known as a 'click-through' or 'scroll-over link'. On the one hand, it's helpful in getting you what you want. On the other hand, there's a danger of impulse purchasing or being lured into spending more than you bargained for.

Among the most successful at attracting advertising has been Lonny Magazine ( www.LONNYmag.com). It's latest issue clocks in at more than 200 pages, with ads from major retailers like Bloomingdales and Nautica. Just try to avoid drooling on your keyboard as you flip through one masterfully styled home after another.

So who's behind this online blitz? Almost always, it's women. Often, they're professional editors who needed a new venture after mainstream magazines folded. For example, Lonny's team came from the cult-adored but now defunct Domino magazine. Occasionally, you'll find professionally trained designers like Ms. Seldon, or Australian designer Loni Parker, who now offers up Adore Home Magazine ( www.adoremagazine.com). Then there are the self-professed lovers of design like Paloma Contreras, who left her career as a high school Spanish teacher and started High Gloss ( www.highglossmagazine.com). Also getting in on the action are small business owners who are keen to extend their brand. The Canadian furniture and textiles designers behind Bookhou ( www.bookhou.com) just launched b.a.h. magazine as part of their blog.

Amid all the uplifting imagery and well-written stories, there are some drawbacks.

For one, it's tough to know what's out there, given that as yet there is no well-known "virtual newsstand" where all of the free magazines can be available in one place.

As well, some readers will find that the videos, downloads and click-throughs fragment the magazine reading experience by diverting attention into countless open browser tabs.

And not all browsers are created equal when it comes to ease of viewing. Current popular magazine layout software is optimized when you use Firefox and Safari. Browse with Internet Explorer and the 'links' will often lead to nowhere.

No one is yet predicting the death of printed magazines that you can hold in your hands or proudly display in colourful stacks on your designer coffee table. But inspiration lives both in print and online.

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