Should publishers be wary of Apple’s control over iPad content?

Fri, Feb 26, 2010

Analysis, News

Given Apple’s recent removal of adult oriented apps from iTunes, should publishers interested in the iPad be worried that their content might be pulled at a moments notice?

Brian X. Chen of Wired thinks so.

Publishers should think twice before worshipping the iPad as the future platform for magazines and newspapers. That is, if they value their independence from an often-capricious corporate gatekeeper…

But the lack of bikini-clad ladies in the App Store isn’t the issue here. It’s the fact that Apple has so much market power, combined with the fact that magazine and newspaper publishers are getting pumped to produce apps for Apple’s iPad, which will be served through Apple’s tightly regulated App Store. The iPad could very well play a major role in the future of publishing, with several of the biggest book publishers already on board to sell e-books through the iPad’s iBooks store, and major publications, including Wired, already working on iPad apps to launch in the App Store.

What will happen when a journalist writes a controversial story about abortion or vaccines? Will displeased readers skip writing angry letters to the publisher and go straight to Apple to get the article pulled? And would Apple then comply?

While we understand Chen’s point of view, his analogy just doesn’t fit. For starters, let’s look at why Apple decided to kick out over 5,000 bikini-laden apps.

John Gruber theorizes that Apple’s beef with sex apps on iTunes has more to do with branding and the effect such apps have on Apple’s image and aura. Put simply, it makes sense. Also, the fact that spammy sex apps were increasingly finding their way onto the bestseller lists on iTunes, often in categories that had nothing to do with the content of the app itself, was undoubtedly concerning for Apple.

That said, one thing to keep in mind is that the very nature of the app store demands that Apple pay closer attention to iPhone applications than it does with all other types of content.

The iTunes App Store model was the first of its kind, and is largely seen as an extension of Apple simply because no one had ever seen anything like it before. Newspapers and Magazines, on the other hand, are familiar to everybody, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any sane person willing to argue that housing controversial content from well-known publishers constitutes an endorsement of that content from Apple. When you see a “Hot! Bikini Girls!” app on the iTunes Store landing page, however, the line is a lot more blurry.

One key difference between the content of a boob app and the content of a newspaper is that the formers purpose is right out in the open and in your face. Any child looking around on iTunes won’t be able to miss it (the app title and icon). Potentially controversial print content, on the other hand, is tucked safely behind the app, free from the peering eyes of puritanical extremists with nothing better to do than to organize customer complaint initiatives against Apple. Besides, the mere fact that Apple has left Playboy’s iPhone app untouched should be evidence enough that publishers need not be worried of Apple’s ever watching moral eye.

Chen concludes:

One thing’s for sure: With the iPad looming and the iPhone continuing to grow in popularity, Apple has to make some dramatic changes to the way it handles apps and runs the App Store.

Fair enough, but again, handling apps and handling print publications are 2 entirely different beasts.

For now, the iPad and the App Store are hardly an ideal environment for newspapers and magazines to be reborn.

We’ll have to humbly disagree. Call us Apple apologists or whatever you want, but it’s hard to fathom that Apple would respond to customer complaints over a hypothetical anti-abortion article when it has no problem with the voluminous number of extremely violent, sexual, and gory movies and tv shows currently available for download on iTunes.

So should publishers be wary of Apple’s recent sex-app ban? In a word, no. Should developers be wary of Apple’s draconian rule over the app store? Well, that’s another story.


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