Important Update on the PressReader App Upgrade

This past weekend, PressReader experienced an extended service interruption. Unfortunately, many valued customers, like you, were not able to read their favorite publications and for that, we are very sorry.

We sat down with Alex Gruntsev, our Chief Innovation Officer, to help explain what went wrong, what we’ve done to fix it and what we are planning to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Alex, can you explain what caused PressReader’s services to become unavailable the weekend of May 17th?

AG: On Friday, May 16th, we released our exciting new version of PressReader (v.4.0) for iOS and Android devices. We’ve done these types of platform-wide updates in the past without problems, but unfortunately, this particular event caused major repercussions.

I don’t want to get too technical, but you may remember that Google recently introduced an automatic app update mechanism which means that when a developer releases an update to an app, the user gets the update without having to do anything. As an additional security and functionality step, we register all update activations on our servers. This therefore meant that this time around, millions of update requests were made to our servers all at the same time. In fact, the app upgrade generated almost 40 times (4,000%) more activations than in the past and at any given point. While we expected and prepared for increased user activity on our network, this mass of requests inadvertently caused our entire network to shut down.

Straightaway, we brought in our development and operations crews who were on standby and they worked around the clock to resolve the server issues. Service for PressReader.com, our iOS, Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10 PressReader apps, and all publisher-branded digital edition sites and apps, was restored for most users by early morning Saturday (UTC -7), albeit slower than usual. We had to work on additional solutions for the Android, and so, on Sunday, all users (including our Android app users) were able to access the service normally.

By the way, if for some reason you are still having trouble connecting to our service, please email us at digitalsupport[@]pressreader.com and one of our product experts will help you right away.

Why did PressReader release another iOS app when the service failed?

AG: While it may have appeared to some people that our initial iOS version of our app was broken, this wasn’t the case at all. To help reduce the load to our servers, our development team made small changes to our iOS app which reduced its dependency on our servers. We took advantage of this opportunity to react to some of your initial feedback and made a few changes (including the option to turn on or off the blue article headline highlights used for quick access to story text view, which is now in Settings|Reading). Thanks to Apple, we were able to quickly release 2 versions of our iOS app (v.4.0.1 and v.4.0.2) within a few hours.

Unfortunately, since it’s impossible to pull apps from Google Play once they have been published, we were not able to make similar adjustments to our Android app. This also explains why it took us a bit longer to restore the service to these users.

Don’t you test your product before it’s released?!

AG: Absolutely and thoroughly! All of PressReader’s products undergo rigorous testing before they are released, both technical and user testing. But, with the complexity of our products and services, unfortunately, a few bugs are inevitable – it happens to the best of us. I want to stress that user experience is critically important to us, and we really strive to deliver a high quality product with an engaging reading experience. In fact, the new PressReader interface is a result of several years of research, focus groups and user testing. We really hope you’ll love it!

Why did it take you so long to respond to customers?

AG: We have an existing communication protocol in place, but we realize that it was clearly insufficient and we did not do enough to communicate timely service updates to our customers.

We are making a number of changes to our processes and methods of communication with you. These will include timely updates on all social media platforms in the event of serious issues with our service, increased staffing of product experts to help address your concerns, and a new status board to show the current state of our systems. Some of these changes have already been made, but others, like the status board, will be available to you soon. Stay tuned!

I want the old app back. Why did you change it?

AG: With over 2,700 titles now part of the PressReader service, including some 700 magazines, which we have added in the past two years, we needed to find a new way of presenting all of the great content and prepare for the continued growth of the collection. This and our desire to improve the products by adding new features, we undertook a complete overhaul of the PressReader app interface. The version which we have released is very much based on customer feedback gained from our many usability studies. We understand that not everyone may be as excited as we are about the changes and that some may have grown used to how things worked before. That being said, we are thrilled about the new version, and we worked hard and consulted with many customer user groups to design a better reading experience that makes it even easier for you to discover new content that we hope you’ll enjoy. Try it, tap around and see what it’s all about! We’re confident that over time you’ll come to love it as much as we do.

Still not convinced? We’re listening, so please email us your feedback at digitalsupport[@]pressreader.com. Also, let us know if you’re interested in joining a future user group to review new features – we’ll make sure to add you to the discussion.

Closing words…

AG: We understand that many of you rely on us to deliver your news. Many hotels, libraries, airlines and cruise lines globally also rely on our services. Again, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that we may have caused you and your clients over the past weekend.

The service failure was the largest in our company’s 15-year history. Our systems are designed to be redundant and scalable, however, based on this event, we are reviewing our entire server ecosystem (physical and cloud-based) so it is more prepared to respond to the dynamically changing reading behavior, technology and platforms.

We are committed to connect people through news, now and in the future.

Thank you for your continued understanding, trust and support!