February 5, 2014 Last Updated 12:23 pm

Chicago Magazine tablet edition combines a news app with a replica edition in one buggy app

App from the Tribune Company has readers upset with crashes and the lack of an update

My email in-box gets filled up pretty quickly these days, but I pay real close attention to the promotional emails I get from other media companies – the NYT, for instance. Most emails are soliciting digital subscriptions, but some use the emails to promote other products.

ChiMag-cover-lgAn email from the Chicago Tribune today, for instance, promoted the tablet app from Chicago Magazine, a product produced by another arm of the company, Chicagoland Publishing Company.

The idea of promoting other digital products, especially ones with paid subscriptions, makes perfect sense. But the reason we don’t see this more often is the lack of those digital products to promote. The NYT, for instance, has only a handful of other apps in the App Store; while the Tribune Company shuttered many of its experiments in digital magazines long ago, and after only a few months of publishing.

But the link to the Apple App Store (there was another to Google Play) seemed odd once iTunes pulled up the app. Chicago Magazine’s tablet app has not been updated very recently, and the reader reviews that shot out were not very flattering.

The app itself starts out promising. ChiMag opens to a splash page with a sponsor (see slideshow below), and then to a registration page for a contest. This is an excellent idea. As Apple does not share user data, the publisher must come up with ways get the reader to give them their information. A contest is one way to do this, a newsletter or other free product might be another.

(As soon as I saw this I realized that this is one of the things we forgot to do with our own Tablet Publishing mag app. TNM once had an e-newsletter, so creating another one would require a list, why not solicit it from the app?)

The app for ChiMag is not inside the Newsstand, a decision that may make sense when one opens the app finds that it immediately goes to a news page rather than an in-app store to sell subscriptions. As I don’t think of Chicago as a news source, this seemed like a strange decision. Also, this is where the troubles began.

ChiMag-article-spreadThe bottom of the page is supposed to have an ad – at least, I think it is. What I encountered was simply a big, black bar. Also, the teaser headlines along the right side did not immediately render properly. Jumping to a story, then back again, set them correctly. But the first impression was of a buggy app.

The actual digital magazine issues are found inside the app’s store offer single issues for $2.99, and a subscription for $9.99. On the magazine’s website one can also buy a print plus digital subscription for $12. Chicago, like a lot of city/regional magazines, heavily discount their titles as they are ad driven.

The digital edition is disappointing in that it is a replica edition that tends to load slowly on my third generation iPad. I’m sure it would have behaved better on my new iPad mini. But as the app was not frequently updated, I would have assumed that the app was not developed only with the newest tablet in mind.

I did not initially encounter the app crashes that reader reviews complain about. Of 27 ratings in the App Store, 20 of them are 1-star review (with 3 more 2-star reviews).

But as I like to take screenshots I turned my iPad to view the replica pages in landscape. Crash. And out of the app I went.

So, the readers weren’t crazy, the app really does crash. In fact, the app has had serious problems from the beginning. The oldest reviews complain that the app had issues where it wanted to charge readers who were subscribers. Then readers could not log into their print accounts in order to access the issues (probably because the app wants to charge for digital access). These may have been situations where readers did not understand that they would have to pay for digital. But the most recent complaints, the ones that have come since the last update was issued November 11, 2013, all complain about the app crashing. Strangely, no one at the Tribune Company seems to have noticed.

I reached out to the publisher to see if there was an update in the works. But as of yet I’ve not heard back.

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