October 17, 2013 Last Updated 10:33 am

Some publishers find the app store can be a pretty mean place

Why do some magazine apps get mostly negative reader reviews, while others appear to get wide latitude from readers for errors and policies? Do native tablet editions fare better than replicas, and do subscribers mark down those apps that require print subscribers to pay again for access?

These questions are hard to answer because it appears that reader’s expectations appear to vary from title to title. In general, though, some things are consistent from app to app.

First, readers hate having to pay for a digital subscription when they already pay for print. This seems to be true for almostPD-iPad-frame all titles.

The app for Cooking with Paula Deen was just updated by the vendor producing the app, PixelMags. Considering Paula Deen’s recent problems one might expect that reader comments inside the App Store might be a bit caustic.

But while there are a couple comments concerning the app that refer to her recent troubles (“Lacking any appeal for African American,” wrote one reader), the main criticism of the app is that it requires print subscribers to pay again for digital. The fact that the app is a hard-to-read replica edition is not mentioned.

Instead, the typical complaint from iPad owners, ones that are apparently unfamiliar with the Newsstand, is that the app is free but it requires a paid subscription to read the issues. For publishers this is a “duh” moment – of course, the publisher would require to buy the issues. But the vast majority of written reviews complain that they believed they could access the issues for free.

Reading the app description it is clear that one needs to pay for the magazine, so what’s up? And does this hurt sales?

Hearst Magazines is another publisher that requires print readers to buy again. Since the beginning of the platform Hearst apps have gotten horrible reviews, mainly for this policy. “I shouldn’t have to pay twice,” writes a recent reviewer. “The digital copy should be included in my subscription.”

Oprah-iPad-frameI think if it were any other publisher faced with the relentless criticism of potential customers they would have folded and changed their policy, many others have. But Hearst has stuck with it, and appears to be making a success of it. I think the reason is the popularity of the brands: magazines like Cosmo, O the Oprah Magazine, Food Network Magazine and Seventeen remain desirable in the eyes of Newsstand buyers.

But is not stopping the negative reviews.

It is hard to judge the issue of replicas, as well. Hard to find titles receive mostly positive reader reviews from readers just happy to find their favorite title available. Others mark down replicas when they are expecting more, often from tech titles.

But the quality of the app and the speed of issue downloads remains incredibly important to readers. Issues that won’t download, or are slow, or issues that suddenly disappear, or need to be redownloaded bring the wrath of readers.

Judging the success of an magazine app inside the App Store based online on star ratings and written reviews is difficult, but zeroing in on what is important to a tablet owner is a little easier. Make sure your app actually works, and make sure those downloads are shift. After that the issues of replica versus native, or paid versus free for print subscribers is variable.

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