Apple iPad Adopters: Prepare for Content Punishment

Apple's "Regional Content Review" clauses for content suppliers may prevent consumers from reading and viewing a large amount of material they've already paid for on their new iPads.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer


Apple's "Regional Content Review" clauses for content suppliers may prevent consumers from reading and viewing a large amount of material they've already paid for on their new iPads (artwork by Spidermonkey)

A few weeks ago I wrote about whether or not Apple will allow the iPad to be an "Open Market" for content providers other than Apple's own iBooks.

So I did a bit more investigative research, and found out that the good news is that at least for now, the answer is Yes. The bad news? Sister Steven isn't going to allow you to consume anything naughty. Bad content supplier, Bad! WHACK! You shall now recite the iPad End-User License Agreement ten times as your penance. Thank you Sister Steven, can I have another?

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

The Good News, at least if you are a consumer or a provider of digital content that competes with iBooks, is that iBooks will be a separate download for iPad and is not treated as "Core functionality" the same way iTunes is, at least in terms in the way other iPhone applications in the past have been rejected for doing the same thing or playing a similar role as iTunes.

So if you're a company like Amazon, Stanza, Barnes & Noble, or even Adobe (which potentially could port its Digital Editions Reader) or an Open Source project like Calibre you are in good shape if you want to do a native port to iPad and become a content supplier.

There are several companies that will have iPad-compatible content viewing apps with their own content stores at or closely following the product's launch. Amazon's Kindle for iPhone and Lexcycle Stanza Reader will run pretty-much as is in blown-up mode, but it's a good bet that both will be fully iPad optimized for launch. [UPDATE: Amazon has announced Kindle for Tablets]

Amazon's primary competition, Barnes & Noble has publicly stated they have an iPad application under development and it will available on or close to launch.

Also Read: Amazon introduces Kindle app for tablet computers

The Bad News? Just because you bought something from one of these content providers and can view it on another device today doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to view it on your iPad.

Recently, I learned about an Apple "Regional Content Review" clause that all iPad content suppliers have to agree to submit and comply to.

I spoke candidly about this subject with Jeanniey Mullen, Global Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Zinio Systems, who was open and willing to discuss what types of materials that customers will not be able to view on their iPad content viewer application that is due for release in April.


The Zinio Viewer and Store for iPad, coming in April 2010.

Zinio is a company that works with magazine publishers to create digital editions of popular newsstand periodicals, and the company provides access to subscription content from material from all over the world, from many different countries.

Effectively, with the Zinio viewer for iPhone and soon iPad, there are thousands and thousands of media-rich publications with color photographs and illustrations for you to choose from.

The viewer application on the iPhone and the iPad as well as on the PC and the Mac (and for other platforms to be announced in the near future) allows you to pan and scan pages and reproduce the paper magazine reading experience in full color on a mobile device.

Additionally, the Zinio application has unique interactive features such as videos and embedded "applets" that extend and enhance the magazine reading experience.

A demonstration of Zinio Dynamic Design from Zinio on Vimeo.

All of this is pretty awesome stuff. There's just one little problem.

Zinio, just like any content provider for iPad and iPhone, has to submit all of its content to Apple under Regional Content Review. That means that if Apple decides certain titles that Zinio carries are unfit for a particular regional market -- in this case, the United States -- it will censor and/or prohibit those titles from being viewed on an iPad, iPhone or iTouch.

What does this imply for the iPad adopter and Zinio customer? You can log into Zinio's site, download the viewer to your PC or Mac, and buy those titles and view them without restriction, but if you attempt to view them on your iPad, those titles will be blocked.

What sort of titles are we talking about here? Well, let's start with the obvious. The domestic and all 16 international versions of Playboy, special editions and sister magazines thereof. The same goes with Penthouse Magazine.

But it's not just soft-core porn. We're also talking about fairly benign and nudity-free titles like MAXIM and FHM (now published only in France and Spain) which depict women in suggestive poses and wearing skimpy outfits.

[UPDATE 4/03/2010: MAXIM premiered on the iPad launch of Zinio, but Penthouse and Playboy and Vogue France cannot be viewed on the application, among others.]

Vogue France has apparently been blacklisted for US-based consumption, much in the same way that Wal-Mart removed it from its shelves due to its artistic and occasional use of nudity.

These publications are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Zinio titles that are perfectly acceptable for foreign consumption but apparently are verboten in the US because Apple has now decided to become our Content Nanny.

But Zinio isn't the only independent content provider that is going to be subject to regional content review. Amazon.com has 450,000 titles in its Kindle pantry and with just a cursory search, "."=""> Amazon's direct competition, Barnes & Noble has nearly 4,000 under that classification. The SONY Reader Store which distributes titles in Adobe Digital Editions format has approximately 2,600.

if you are one of those folks who feel erotica is "bad" and thus believe iPad prospective buyers who like this stuff should stay far, far away from the device, then the argument ends there.

Additional Resources:

Apple is not your mother

iPad in schools? content controls, DRM and pricing mean no

Apple should let adults make their own decisions regarding content

However, while it might be easy to classify something as "erotica", not all material that is stimulating necessarily falls under that category. There is also the slippery slope of material that may not actually be "erotica" and yet may be educational adult material that easily could fall through the cracks or will be rubber-stamped as "bad" by Apple with little or no consideration.

For example, there is all of the material written by popular sexologist Violet Blue, who has 28 titles for Kindle on Amazon.

A few of the titles of which she has author, contributor or editor credit are pure erotica, but the balance of them are "Self-Help" for singles and couples type manuals similar to the Joy of Sex which is widely considered to be a revolutionary treatise on the subject.

Violet Blue is well-known as a subject matter expert on sex who writes for SFGate.com, is a high traffic content supplier with her podcast on iTunes and has previously appeared on Oprah. And apparently Steve Jobs doesn't like her very much.

Violet Blue uses extremely explicit language to describe the various techniques in the subjects she covers, and also has graphic illustrations that assist in the text. Is her work pornography or instructional/educational material?

ZDNet Podcast with sexologist Violet Blue on e-books, explicit content and iPad

According to Apple's calculus under these new Regional Content Review processes which in terms of due diligence for Amazon, B&N and other large suppliers will be a Herculean effort -- it's likely going to be painted and classified into one big category: Not acceptable.

Besides erotica and self-help sex manuals there's other stuff totally unrelated to those subjects that Apple might very well kick off the list. There's all of Chelsea Handler's bawdy books. And what about all of those medical texts out there that have graphical representations of male and female anatomy in photographs and illustrations? Or naturalistic depictions of unclothed women and men in back-issues of National Geographic?

How about Japanese Manga and other graphic novels and independent comic books which depict women in suggestive outfits and also frequently show extreme violence? Where exactly does Apple draw the line on this stuff? And if they forget to do proper due diligence and something slips between the cracks initially, will materials we've paid for and previously were able to view on the iPad and iPhone just disappear?

And content doesn't stop at books and magazines. This clause would be sure to affect Netflix or other similar content-streaming service that serves up video as well.

I'm really looking forward to being an iPad owner. But if I find myself frequently running into Apple-imposed content firewalls, I may have to look at owning additional devices such as HP's Windows 7-based Slate or Dell's Mini 5 based on Android.

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Does Apple's content review policies give you pause or concerns about your iPad purchase? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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