Wired iPad app – what went wrong?

When Wired magazine launched it’s digital app equivalent last year it was highly regarded and showered with praise. Now a quick glance at at the reviews in the App Store reveals a rating of one and a half stars and a torrent of angry customers. So what went wrong?

As a purchaser of every issue of the digital magazine I can safely say the problem is not the content. The magazine, like its print twin, is full of interesting news articles, excellent photography and a nice smattering of interactivity. As I said, I’ve purchased every issue of the magazine, but I no longer have access to every issue and therein lies the problem…

I bought the first issue on the day of release and recommended it everybody wholeheartedly – this was the future of publishing! But as a regular purchaser of the real world version of the magazine, I had a neatly ordered library of back issues on my bookshelf and in the back of my mind I was slightly nervous… “If I stop buying the physical versions of the magazine, will I still be able to refer to my digital copies next year or in five years time?” a little voice inside me said.

I should have listened. A little while later Wired released an update to the app and the first issue that I’d bought showed up as available for purchase again even though I already owned it… Shortly afterwards and a few issues later, I had to backup and restore my iPad and, when I’d finished I found that all my back issues were gone. A few emails to tech support managed to get them back apart from the first one. Apparently they’d switched to a different way of handling back issues shortly after launch and so if I wanted that issue again, I’d have to buy it again. I didn’t.

I was obviously not alone – the comments in the App Store showed that other users were suffering from the same or similar problems. And then things got worse. The most recent update to the app, ironically described as containing ‘Bug fixes‘ and ‘Issue update functionality‘ seemed to wipe away all my back issues. Numerous reviews with titles along the lines of ‘Disgraceful‘, ‘Shameful‘, ‘From awesome to awful‘ confirmed that I was not alone – everybody else had an empty library as well.

Another exchange of emails with tech support revealed that I could re-download my issues free of charge – although this is not apparent at all from within the app itself. You have to take a leap of faith and press the ‘Buy‘ button and hope you won’t be charged.

These numerous problems reveal a shoddy underlying purchase engine that badly lets the app down. Other apps seem to get this right – the Marvel comics app has a simple and intuitive way of letting you delete comics you’ve already read and re-download them again at a later date if you want to. They don’t mysteriously disappear and there’s no confusion about how to get them back and whether you’ll be charged or not.

To make matters worse, so much negative publicity could easily be avoided by a simple message in the App Store description telling users how to get their lost issues back or even an explanation from within the app itself. But instead, Wired seem content to remain silent on the matter and wait for unhappy users to contact them for help.

I feel really strongly that Wired are handling this situation very badly indeed and the knock on effect might result in more than just the failure of their own digital efforts and tar the whole digital magazine industry with the same brush. As a monthly magazine publisher you rely on the loyalty of your customers far more than the developer of a single app does – it’s their repeat purchases that keep you in business. If you’re going to provide them with a crappy user experience and then not even explain the situation or apologise for it, you deserve all you’re going to get…

 

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    • Thomas
    • April 4th, 2011

    I was panicking until I read this and figured other people had similar issues. Shocking to say the least, I don’t trust them to convince me to buy the new issues. This needs to be fixed.

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