July 3, 2014 Last Updated 3:27 pm

Newsweek, having already failed in print, deals with readers who say digital edition is failing, too

Now owned by IBT Media, former print newsweekly struggles to please potential readers of its digital edition after changing publishing platforms

The newsweekly Newsweek is like Tom Cruise at the end of Interview with the Vampire: it may still be alive, but it is not looking very good. At least that is what users of the digital edition are telling the publisher.

Newsweek probably won’t go away until someone drives a stick through its heart. Bought by audio businessman Sidney Harman for a dollar from The Washington Post in 2010, the magazine embarrassed itself with a series of silly front cover stories under the editorial leadership of Tina Brown. The magazine was redesigned in 2011, but about a year and a half after that redesign, it was announced that the title would be shuttered. After 80 years of publishing, the owners said they would try and keep the brand alive online.

That move allowed the owners to sell the title off to IBT Media, founded by Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis, who have no background in the media business but who do appear to have the backing of a Korean preacher (“hailed by some of his followers as the ‘Second Coming Christ’ according to a Christianity Today article).

Newsweek-iPad-coverOK, so Newsweek has gone from being owned by The Washington Post to an audio man to God, but can anyone make the damn thing succeed?

Those who access, or try to access, the digital edition on their iPads say no. The Newsstand app has received overwhelmingly negative reviews.

But the problem isn’t really the app, but the publication’s decision to move to another platform and its failure to consider its readers desires to keep their old issues.

The new app, still called Newsweek for iPad, is using the PugPig platform which is producing a digital edition that is not coming from print anymore and so looks much more like The Magazine or digital magazines coming from 29th Street Publishing. My own experience with the app, after reloading it back on to my iPad, is that it works just fine. Issues downloaded quickly, and although I am not a fan of the simple layouts common to these types of digital magazines – I think art directors, if given a chance, can create amazing layouts in digital magazines – the digital edition works.

So why all the negative reviews (over 70% are 1-star reviews)? It probably has to do with the constant changes with the title.

Newsweek was an early adopter of the tablet platform, launching a digital edition app in 2010 just after TIME Magazine’s app appeared. But the app was a dull replica edition (I usually tie those two words together) that was called out by one website as illustrating “How NOT To Do a Digital Magazine.”

Newsweek-iPad-articleA year and a half later the magazine updated its app, moving it into the new Apple Newsstand, and lowered its subscription price (see original TNM post on that move on our old Blogger website).

That update introduced a new native tablet edition that readers seemed to like: “Fantastic. Such an easy to use and beautiful app. Definitely a must have. Thank you Newsweek.”

But that was then, and this is now, as they say. The new app apparently does not recognize old subscriptions – and, of course, the old issues simply won’t be found and can be accessed here in the new app.

This isn’t the digital publishing platform’s problem, and it is isn’t the designer’s problem, it is the fault of those not very aware that they are upsetting readers who used the old apps. It is a common issue with magazines that change platforms, what to do about the old digital editions?

One solution, which is not very elegant, is to launch an archive app, but this means maintaining the old platform, and with it, its cost, something few publishers find attractive. So the decision is usually to move on, hope readers tolerate a little pain, and after a certain length of time maybe all is forgotten. Maybe.

  • Ed Coburn 4 months ago

    We reviewed the Newsweek app a while ago, which necessitated purchasing it. We had a problem arise and have found the in-app support inadequate, the online support non-responsive, and a phone support number nonexistent. Even to the extent that we have not been able to cancel our subscription. Buyer beware.

    (Our review of the Newsweek app is at http://www.mequoda.com/articles/digital-magazine-publishing/newsweek-pricing-makes-a-splash-but-not-in-a-good-way/)

  • Dave Ball 4 months ago

    “The new app apparently does not recognize old subscriptions – and, of course, the old issues simply won’t be found and can be accessed here in the new app.” ?? What are you trying to say?

    • D.B. Hebbard 4 months ago

      Dave, this is the third separate app released by Newsweek, each one using a different publishing platform. That means that every time the app changes the old issues may be lost, or at least will need to be downloaded once again.

      My own experience with the new app is that it is fine – but then again, I haven’t been reading the magazine issue to issue. Apparently those that have are not very happy. That may change over time, of course.

  • M A Hameed 4 months ago

    One of the major problems is that they do not have an open mind, even at the top. They are not willing even to listen to new ideas, new ways of doing the job. “Not invented here” mindset will take the magazine only downwards.