Do you think Apple’s iPad could change the face of newspaper and magazine publishing? If so, will that put Apple in charge of the news? Brian X. Chen postulates that question in Wired.
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.
I love a well turned phrase, but it’s hard to imagine print media publishers worshipping anyone other than themselves. Apple has a commanding presence in digital music downloads but do record company executives worship Jobs and Company?
On the other hand, is Apple truly a ‘capricious corporate gatekeeper?’
capricious |kəˈpri sh əs;-ˈprē-|
given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior :
a capricious and often brutal administration | a capricious climate.
Is that Apple? Certainly. Do publishers need to be aware of Apple’s nature? Certainly. Will Apple’s iPad be the delivery mechanism for publishers in the 21st century. Certainly not.
The past week’s controversy swirling around Apple’s retroactive ban of sexy apps in the App Store seems trivial, but the implications of Apple’s arbitrariness should be disconcerting to members of the press and those who rely on the media for unbiased information.
Though Apple is being arbitrary, the controversy is trivial (except to the soft porn industry). And since when did the media provide unbiased information?
While it may initially appear publishers are more shielded from Apple’s ban hammer, the severity of the retroactive ban should be concerning for freedom-of-speech advocates.
Suddenly, Apple’s porn-purge-o-rama has become a freedom-of-speech issue. If I cook up honey coated turds and want Whole Foods to sell them, and they don’t, can I use the freedom-of-speech angle to get my way? It’s Apple’s store. They can sell what they want. And not sell what they don’t want. It’s not a freedom-of-speech issue.
Apple can do whatever it wants with the content in its App Store. Apple is not government, and thus it is not governed by the First Amendment. In light of the recent ban, many have correctly compared Apple’s App Store to Wal-Mart, which also doesn’t allow porn.
See? Brian agrees with me. So what’s the real issue?
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.
Market power? Think about that for a moment. Microsoft has market power over the vast majority of the world’s personal computers. While that may not bode well for users, it doesn’t endanger the endangered species of print publishing.
Likewise, Apple’s iTunes Store maintains a dominant position for digital media downloads. But Apple’s devices, and customers, make up but a small sliver of the world’s media-ingesting carbon-based creatures.
Assume for a moment that Apple’s iPad takes a 20-percent share of the sub-$1,000 computing devices market segment. Is that 20-percent dominant? Still, without a single iPad sold, Chen worries for his print media brethren.
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?
Will that same controversial story show up on the general world wide web? Yes. Do angry readers or ambulance-chasing attorneys seek to shut down Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (the browser which displayed the offending story)? Of course not.
This whole argument is silly. But Chen persists:
I’m optimistic that Apple will eventually create a separate section in iTunes for digital newspapers and magazines, giving publishers a platform to distribute their digital content based on a strict, contractual agreement that prevents their content from being arbitrarily removed at Apple’s discretion.
Isn’t it likely that Apple wants no part of managing the content? They have a store. They stock the store with what they think will sell. They sell things. If some of what they sell impedes their ability to sell more, they’ll take it off the shelf. It’s business. Not free speech. Chen thinks not:
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said he understands Apple’s intention to keep its App Store immaculate, but its censorship — and the rise of more open alternatives such as Google Android — will drive loyal customers away.
It’s a store. If it doesn’t have what I want, I’ll buy what I want elsewhere. A pristine store without customers is not what Apple wants. That’s not what they have, either. Scheer:
What you’re limited to right now is Apple wants you to see in its little neighborhood, and it doesn’t want you to go into other neighborhoods. Eventually you embitter a lot of people who don’t understand why they’re being denied access to something they’d like to have on a device they have and they own.
That’s just silly. Does the lack of soft porn apps in the App Store prohibit iPhone or iPod touch or iPad customers from viewing soft porn on their respective devices? Hello? The last time I checked my iPhone it still had the Safari browser on it and it was still capable of viewing pretty much anything the internet provides.
So it will be with print media publishers extending their brands, their content and their customer base via the iPad—one of many distribution and display devices they need to conquer.
What’s not clearly understood by Chen or Scheer is that this whole process is a constantly evolving dynamic. Apple will adjust according to market requirements, not the unreasonable demands of freedom-of-speech and sky-is-falling fringe elements. Finally:
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. For now, the iPad and the App Store are hardly an ideal environment for newspapers and magazines to be reborn.
Dramatic changes? Or, mere adjustments to match the evolving landscape? Newspapers and magazines won’t be reborn on Apple’s iPad. The iPad is merely another corner newsstand, albeit a very cool one. If I can’t buy what I want there I’ll exercise my freedom of speech and tell the newsstand owner. If the owner doesn’t respond appropriately, I’ll go across the street.
Apple has nothing to worry about. The dinosaurs of print media need to worry about other issues. I hear there’s a chilling frost this weekend.