New Yorker App Store ratings [Updated]

Out of the 582 ratings left as of this writing, 430 are only one star. The vast majority of low scores come from subscribers who are opposed to the app’s cost. A few examples:

“…so even if I have an existing print subscription I still have to buy issues for $4.99 a pop, almost the same as the newsstand price of $5.99. Makes this a bit pointless/greedy. I already have my paper copy subscription which runs $1-2 a copy.”

“Really surprised they’re not offering a free (or at least discounted) pass to print subscribers. A year of the New Yorker ain’t cheap. Editors, CN suits, we implore you – let us read this product we already pay $40-60 a year for on our iPads! It doesn’t cost you any extra money!”

“I’m not the first to point this out, but charging your loyal print subscribers is ridiculous.”

That’s dismal. It’s also unfair. I agree that the pricing model is lousy, but it’s not entirely Condé Nast’s fault. For example, Time, Inc. has been at odds with Apple over App Store subscriptions for some time. According to All Things Digital, Time wanted to launch a subscription-based version of Sports Illustrated (SI) on the App Store, only to have their model rejected by Apple. Time would have users download the app from the store and then pay them directly for a subscription. Apple denied the proposal, and Time has been forced to sell single copies of the magazine. I’m sure that Condé Nast would offer iOS subscriptions and/or supplemental options for paper subscribers if they could.

Also, the notion that “it doesn’t cost [Condé Nast] any extra money” to produce an iPad app is ridiculous. I’m sure it’s very expensive, and the people involved deserve to get paid for their hard work. Getting back to Sports Illustrated, Josh Quittner (guest editor of the iPad edition), recently wrote about the decision to go “horizontal only” with SI for iPad:

“…doing away with the vertical view allows us to economize on resources. The brunt of the iPad issue falls on the shoulders of our designers—they’re the folks who, in one magazine after another here at Time Inc and elsewhere, are the people who suddenly added an extra day to their already busy weeks…Why not add more designers? Well, if we were able to build a real business, with subscriptions that offered our iPad versions to readers at a reasonable price, that would be a no brainer. But we can’t yet, so the best approach for us is to experiment with the format, marshal our (human) resources and start building products on other platforms that will allow us to scale up as our business grows.”

The New Yorker app itself is quite nice; I’ve been enjoying it. The purpose of App Store ratings, I believe, is to rate the software itself, not its pricing. Its understandable, yet unfortunate, that The New Yorker for iPad is rated so poorly in the App Store.

Updates: Anna Spysz disagrees with my assessment. She writes:

“What the New Yorker should have done is to hold off on the app until the time was right: until tablets and iOS devices became truly ubiquitous, at least in the US, and until their print subscriptions had dropped down to the point of non-sustainability…Once you decide to go app, you must kill the print, and discontinue the system of offering the same content for free online. In fact, just stop offering magazine content online! No one wants to read that in a browser when they can experience it in an app, even if that means they have to pay. Because if the product is good, they will.”

Condé Nast is aggressively pursuing iPad publishing. As of this writing, there are 16 Condé Nast publications available for the iPad. Interestingly, the one I’m most excited about is Gourmet Live. It exists as an iPad app only, but that was out of necessity, not by design. I’m interested to see if and how its unique position affects its performance.

I agree and disagree with Anna. First, she’s right when she says that no one wants to read magazine content in a browser. I sure don’t. But at the same time, iPads are not ubiquitous and won’t be for a long time. Staying out of the pool until then would be a mistake.

Meanwhile, reader Wes writes:

“What about making the app free and offering subscriptions as in-app purchases?  I’d expect Apple would be more amenable to that, as they’d probably get a cut.”

A good question, and I don’t know enough about the magazine publishing business to offer an informed response. I’ve seen others suggest that electronic versions of each issue should be included in a paper subscripion. A nice idea, but as I said, the people who develop and maintain the app must to get paid for their hard work, and that money must come from somewhere.