Why Magazines' iPad Apps Get Such Bad Reader Reviews

Have you heard of Scott Dadich, the so-called "savior of Condé Nast"? He's the boy genius whose vision for an iPad-friendly version of Wired inspired a re-examination of the company's entire strategy. You'd think that Wired app must be some knock-your-socks off piece of work, right? But the people who've bought it don't agree: Its average rating in the iTunes app store is 2.5 stars out of 5.

Let's not pick on Wired unfairly, though. In fact, its mediocre rating, as voted on by customers, puts it on the high end for apps that allow you to read the full version of a print magazine on an iPad or iPhone. Users just don't seem to like them very much.

Sports Illustrated, which, like Wired, released a flashy demo video to hype its app in advance, has been averaging only two stars from customers. The Glamour app that went on sale this week is rated the same. Vanity Fair, another Condé Nast title, is averaging 2.5 stars, as are Time Inc.'s (TWX) Fortune, Bonnier's Popular Science and Alpha Media's Maxim. At the low end are Time and Women's Health with 1.5 stars apiece.

Just about the only magazine reader apps to receive better than a "C" from reviewers are the ones from GQ, which has 3.5 stars, and Popular Mechanics, with 4. And, despite the fact that, as I previously reported, an impressive degree of intelligence went into that Popular Mechanics app, in both these cases the high ratings seem to have a lot to do with price: Pop Mechanics has been selling for $1.99 because it's not a complete issue, while GQ is priced at $2.99, $2 less than the cost of a print copy on the newsstand. (GQ's app also requires a one-time charge of $4.99 to get started, which could explain why its rating has risen half a star over time.)

Meanwhile, if you read the user remarks on all those low-rated apps, you'll see that a lot of the negative ones focus on price rather than product quality. So much for that hope that consumers will be only too happy to pay more for digital magazines than they pay now for print.