October 20, 2014 Last Updated 11:54 am

Test, test, test: a quick way way to lose digital readers (or never sell them) is through a buggy app

New versions of iOS, third party subscription services, and the failure to test an app on multiple devices regularly (even after an app’s launch) vital to keeping readers happy

The rallying cry of every digital publisher should be “have we tested our app enough?” Year after year, following the release of the new mobile operating system by Apple, developers scramble to make sure their apps are functioning properly – but many others, unfortunately, leave this up to others, or ignore their apps altogether.

Tomorrow-iPad-iPhoneLast week, this fear of a buggy app struck me, too. A reader contacted me to say they could not download the Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms from the Apple iBooks Store. After looking at more than a few buggy apps, and writing about others that are now struggling to reverse sales declines, I feared the worse. As I have built the eBook myself, I had to delete all versions on my iPad and attempt to download the eBook myself. There was no problem, and later the same reader said the issue was completely on their side. But that sense of fear still remained because I know that many publishers are dealing with the issue of apps that leave readers frustrated.

I encounter buggy apps all the time – far too often. It is difficult to understand why they make it through the app review process but have to guess that Apple only looks at the app itself, whether it appears to be sound, rather than go all the way by testing whether issues download, whether the billing process works. Many Newsstand apps launch with no digital issues actually ready to be delivered, they are only switched on, so to speak, once the app has been approved.

This is dangerous, of course. An app I downloaded recently simply gave me an error message when I attempted to access the first issue – I then tested the app on my iPhone as it was universal, but got the same result. The app used a DIY service, AppsMoment, a company I had not encountered until now.

But as much as a bad app launch is something to fear, probably a bigger fear has to be the app that goes bad. One would think this isn’t possible but it is actually quite common. Since Apple occasionally issues updates to iOS – in fact, one is due today to turn on Apple Pay – it is common to find that an app that seems perfect today is buggy tomorrow. Further, Newsstand apps often use outside vendors for subscription services. Many of the problems readers complain about is that they, having already paid for a subscription, can no long access issues, or the app says they must pay again.


Last summer, Hearst’s Cosmopolitan suffered app issues that had readers fuming. “I bought the issue 5 months agao and I’m still unable to download it. I want my money back,” one reader said in their iTunes review. As summer began the magazine was able to report over 200K digital subscriptions, one year later the magazine reported 124K – was it the app, or something else? I don’t know, but the two things – declining subs and a buggy app – seem tied together.

The solution, if there is one, is to constantly test one’s apps. This means testing on multiple devices across multiple platforms. Developers need to try and find bugs before readers do, though that is admittedly a tough task.

Many developers probably felt good this time around as Apple had released multiple beta versions of iOS 8 and most of the digital publishing platforms were very good at making sure their platforms were ready. But all the precautions in the world could not, apparently, prevent issues once iOS 8 was released. It appears that the GM (gold master) of iOS 8 was different enough from the last beta that some issues arose, despite the best efforts of publishers and developers. The key is to issue that bug fix update as soon as possible before the reader complaints, not to mention the subscription cancellations, start to pile up.

  • Richard Dean Starr 3 years ago

    We subscribed to Motorhome magazine and we have yet to be able to actually READ an issue on a mobile device in a way that didn’t feel awkward at best, or was broken at worst.

    For example, you get an email with a “key” to “unlock” the digital magazine from a third-party source. Why not just send the issue direct to the subscriber as a PDF?

    Control, that’s why. They’re afraid the end-user will distribute the publication. Well, some will…even with the ridiculous jumping-through-hoops required by many digital magazine producers.

    If we’ve learned one thing while developing our PocketReader™ app, it’s that your dictum to “test, test, test” is critical. The last thing we want to do is lose readers, especially the way Motorhome has nearly lost me as a customer.