Robot 6

That ol’ double standard

The Importance of Being Earnest, as seen on the iPad

The Importance of Being Earnest, as seen on the iPad

At the Prism Comics website, Charles “Zan” Christensen takes a look at the maybe-we-will-maybe-we-won’t world of the Apple app store.

The iPad has been getting plenty of raves as a comics reader, and yet, as Jason Snell points out in his recent exhaustive look at the device’s comics capabilities, the technology may be great but the content is spotty, with some comics available for in-app purchases, others available only as single apps, and quite a few unavailable altogether.

Christensen’s story explores why that is, and it’s an important question. Remember, print comic distribution is already a near-monopoly, at least when it comes to comics stores, and with Diamond refusing to carry books that don’t reach a minimum number of orders, the market has become bleak indeed for new and niche publishers. Webcomics seemed like the logical alternative, but no one wants to pay for webcomics. But iPod/iPhone/iPad users have been trained from the beginning to pay for their content, so these are logical outlets, and Apple’s terms are actually quite good for publishers.

Except that Apple is being very selective about which comics it will carry, and that selectiveness seems to go not only to content but also to how large and established the publisher is. As Christensen points out, Apple shut down a swimsuit catalog app because it had pictures of women clad only in bathing suits but left Sports Illustrated alone.

When asked about the Sports Illustrated decision, Apple Senior Vice-President Phil Schiller explained.

“The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format,” Schiller said.

This double standard is quite evident in the comics selections; Marvel’s Kick-Ass was allowed, while Jesus Hates Zombies, which the creator mantains is less gory, was not. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read either one.) And Michael Murphey of iVerse, one of the first comics apps and a well-established fixture in the app store, says that Apple allows violence, brief nudity, and swears at about the level of an R-rated movie:

“Apple has those exact things that you mentioned listed as part of their guidelines—you can check those things off, and the book will be rated appropriately. The only area that Apple is really saying ‘no’ to, from our experience at least, is pornography, or things that come very close to being pornography.”

Yet Tom Bouden’s adaptaton of The Importance of Being Earnest was rejected from the app store on the basis of half a dozen images, all showing two men kissing or embracing but not having sex, and none depicting full frontal nudity. Apple finally allowed the comic with big black rectangles over the “offending” images.

And the Yaoi Press YA title Zesty, which is the mildest gay-friendly comic in the world, was also rejected, even after bowdlerizations like changing “I’m strictly dickly” to “Don’t get burnt, girls. I’m flaming!”

The question I am left with, after reading Christensen’s comprehensive article, is whether Apple is homophobic or small-press-phobic. My guess is the latter; if Sports Illustrated had a special gay-themed issue, or Marvel did a superhero version of Fake, they would probably be allowed in. And in fact you can get plenty of gay-themed comics via the Kindle app—they just don’t look very good, as Kindle is a terrible comics reader, and creators get a much smaller cut of the profits.

But that’s the peril of monopoly: Apple’s choices probably make good business sense for them, at least according to some sort of logic, but they also squeeze out a lot of new creators for whom the iPad is the most promising platform. As Peter Bonte, the publisher of Bouden’s comic, said: “The big problem for now is the random nature; I can see the problem with ‘boob-apps’ on the iphone but genuine literature and art is the victim of this.”



I’m wondering if they are trying to give the mainstream media more of an opportunity to succeed on the iPad by limiting competition from “fringe” players. If mainstream media companies succeed then the iPad will be a mainstream device. Android slates can be the wild west device with its low-value content. Of course, once the iPad secures the mainstream media, then they will probably be more open to less mainstream media.

I wonder how long before hackers start sneaking their banned content onto these devices?
I think it’s utterly aweful that so much great content gets burned because there’s only 2 or 3 outlets to find it.

Nobody has to sneak any ebook or comic book or video content onto the iPad, because it’s not closed off in that way. Apple has made the decision – rightly or wrongly – not to sell certain things in the iTunes store. They haven’t done anything, however, to prevent Amazon or some other retailer from selling video, ebooks, comics, etc. that can then be import onto their iPads/Pods/Phones to watch or read through numerous programs that are available in the iTunes store.

as a self-publisher, i’ve been struggling to find a good way to get my latest comic into the iTunes store. i’ve contacted most if not all of the major iPod/iPhone/iPad distributors and only heard back from Panelfly, who told me they’re not accepting submissions at this time. i looked into developing my own app, but the cost to hire someone to make one is ridiculous and the time it would take for me to learn Cocoa is probably more than i’d like to spend. i signed the contract and everything for comicsXP only to receive their “we’re shutting down” email. in fact, DriveThruComics is the only digital download service i’ve successfully connected with (who is great to work with, but they’re not a mobile service — they only sell my comic as a PDF). the only truly positive iPod/iPhone/iPad alternative i’m looking at right now is the Kindle app, but i heard that doesn’t look so hot on the iPad. so yeah, basically, the door is essentially closed on you if you’re a self-publisher seeking to put your stuff up for sale in the iTunes store.

Big businesses will always favor each other. Small publishers have less to offer Apple. Fewer consumers will buy an Apple product in order to read a small publisher’s content. More consumers will buy an Apple product in order to read Marvel and DC content. Apple wants to make money, not promote art (unless promoting art makes significant money).

Digital media offers many opportunities for small publishers, but big players in digital media will always favor big players in physical media. Those of us who like what small publishers produce, whatever that may be, will always have to go out of our way to support it. It’s not *as far* out of the way with digital content as it is with print–not by a long shot–but still.

Steve G –

That’s incorrect. “Jesus Hates Zombies” was available THROUGH ComiXology’s App, but Apple pulled it.
So it wasn’t a stand-alone comic or App that got denied, but a coming WITHIN an available App that got pulled.

I’m hoping that Erik is right, and that the evolution of content such as comics and books will mirror the timeline that we had for music; start out favoring large partners and then make more opportunities available to smaller players later.

A more transparent review and appeal process would go a long way toward improving the situation.

@StephenRL That’s the part that horrified me when I started researching the article. Apple reviews ALL content sold through any app in their App Store, which makes them resemble Diamond more than a large comic book store chain. Lots of smaller stores have their access to books blocked if Apple rejects something.

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