Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pdfs, downloads and reading a magazine on the plane

"Exact Editions is great, but why not offer a downloadable version of the magazine, like a PDF?" This seems like a very reasonable request and its one of our more frequent themes in customer support. Here are some of the reasons we do not offer a PDF or issue-download solution:

  1. If we were to offer this our publishers would reasonably insist on some sort of DRM solution. We do not think DRM (so called 'Digital Rights Management' software) is a solution to anything. The publishers would require a DRM system because without it piracy would be rife. Think about it: if it were to be as easy to download issues of magazines from Exact Editions as it is to search issues of magazines we would become a type of Napster service for magazines. Publishers who care about their subscription revenues (most consumer magazine publishers do so care) would hate this.
  2. Issue download systems appear to be attractive to users who do not consider the difficulties and inefficiencies involved in storing, managing, saving and searching across issues. By providing a convenient and shared access service, Exact Editions is able to solve all these maintenance issues at a stroke. Downloads may appear to be a reader convenience but they can rapidly become a maintenance nightmare.
  3. The most frequently offered reason for wanting a download is that web access is unpredictable (eg only available through a modem), or we have often heard that users like to read their magazine on the plane, the train etc. There is, of course, reason and force in these requests. But it should be recognised that there are countervailing advantages in a system like the Exact Editions access system which means that you can log in to your subscription from any web-enabled device. There are advantages in not needing to download. Planes and trains are rapidly acquiring in flight web access, and as they do so it will be possible to log in to your Exact Editions subscription whether or not you have (a) remembered to carry your laptop on board (you will use your iPhone or the headrest-mounted web monitor); or (b) remembered to download an issue of a magazine to your laptop.
  4. In short: the web will soon be everywhere and when it is everywhere and omnipresent, having access to all or any magazine issues will be much, much more important than being able to download individual issues.
PDFs are a brilliant file format for printing and they were at one time the only option for reading magazines and printed books. No longer. Same arguments apply to Flash and all the other file-download solutions out on the market. Database service to which the consumer will have access are generally to be preferred.

1 comment:

Dude said...

Dear Adam, as a new subscriber I found your reasons for baring full access to your digital content somewhat lacking in credibility. The fact that it is 'one of our more frequent themes in customer support' shows that you aren't meeting a stated customer demand. Your 'reasons' are weak and lack cohesive logic.

I would challenge your standpoint for the following reasons...

1. 'piracy would be rife' - The people who are passionate about your titles, and willing to pay a subscription, may want to share, but it is unlikely that those they are sharing it with would have been subscribers in the first place. Quite the opposite, giving the ability to share will increase exposure your service.

Moreover having working in advertising for many years, publishers AREN'T particularly interested in the cover price they ARE interested in circulation figures. If that can be captured, by increased customer acquisition to their advertisers, everyone is a winner.

Working with Sony and Apple iTunes, I know that the industry acknowledges that DRM is problematic. As a result both Apple's iTunes and Sony BMG are offering their content DRM free.

2. You mention that you service 'solve all these maintenance issues at a stroke.' I have never had an 'issue' with saving a PDF file to a folder and reading it when I wish. Magazine content is static and needs no updating. In fact the universal use of PDF as an easy to use medium is testament to the fact that there are no 'issues' with using a childishly simple interface. Having personally usability-tested hundreds of users I can state that not a single one mentioned any of the 'issues' you mentioned.

3. 'The most frequently offered reason for wanting a download is that web access is unpredictable' Your then answer this need by saying that 'you can log in to your subscription from any web-enabled device' 'in not needing to download' citing an example that some planes and trains give you the possibility of accessing the Internet.

What you are saying is that we should leave our homes, and go somewhere that provides a reliable Internet connection. Will I need to book a flight to view the next issue of A to B?

The fact is that having paid our subscription, we want to view it on our own machines when we are offline, not 'any web-enabled device' place or train. Your alternative involves more cost to the user and no advantage over simply downloading content and reading it when and where we so choose. Maybe I want to read it on my laptop in the garden - how does you suggestion solve that problem?

4. You next comment is supposed to answer your customers request for full access to the content they have paid for; 'the web will soon be everywhere.' That might be true if you consider 'web access' merely to be via your miniscule mobile phone screen, which is an inappropriate device for reading magazine content.

Real life experience in London is that you either have to pay an extortionate amount to access content via your mobile provider or pay for wi-fi access at Starbucks and the like. Free wifi is very scattered and certainly not 'omnipresent'

Can you tell me how when I will be able to read my titles on any london bus, tube, ferry or overground. You state that it will be 'soon' and 'everywhere' Are you privy to some news non of the rest of us have?

In conclusion, I find you arguments to lack any substance. You fail to credibly address your customers real needs and do a poor job of fobbing them off with the advice that they 'soon' will be able to access the Internet everywhere without stating when that will be, what devices they will be able to use or what the quality of experience will be.

I for one have to desire to re-subscribe as your service fails to address my real needs.


Simon Johnson - user experience consultant.