Does "Reviewed by Apple" Mean iBook Censorship on the iPad?

Okay, so there’s this little thing called the iPad that’s dropping tomorrow and, as the owner of Boles Books Writing and Publishing, I would like to — as an independent publisher — get in on the iBooks action by selling some titles on the iPad.

It is not a simple task to currently find any sort of information on the Apple.com website for submitting iBooks to the iTunes store for sale while submitting books for sale on the Kindle is super-simple, transparent, and welcoming.

I started my journey by looking for some sort of contact link on the Apple.com site.  No link existed for customer service help on iBooks and the iPad.  I decided to send an email inquiry to the iPhone Development team to ask for assistance.

When I didn’t receive a timely reply, I decided to bide my time by writing directly to Steve Jobs — sjobs@apple.com — to see if he’d answer my inquiry as he’s uncharacteristically been doing lately:

Hi Steve Jobs!

I searched Apple.com today — and even sent an email to Dev Support — asking for a web page with a signpost process for independent book publishers like http://BolesBooks.com to exclusively submit iPad books to the iBookstore.  I couldn’t find the answer I was seeking.

We want to write and submit a series of American Sign Language books — and other exciting titles — for the iPad only.  We’re excited about the platform and its reach.  Here’s my early take on the iPad promise:

http://wordpunk.com/2010/02/05/ipad-kills-kindle-adobe-and-iphone/

Will we be able to submit books for sale in the iBookstore?

We thank you!

Best,

db

Perhaps my email inquiry to Steve wasn’t one that could be tersely answered?

Six days after I sent that email to Steve Jobs, the Apple Developer Connection replied to my initial query:

Re: iBookstore

Hello David,

Thank you for contacting the Apple Developer Connection regarding the iBookstore.

If you are a publisher interested in distributing your content on the iBookstore, we request that you contact our iBookstore Business Team:

iBookstore Business Team <ebookquery@apple.com>.

Please include the following information with your inquiry:

Name: Company Name: Phone Number: Email address: Type of ebook content you intend to sell (i.e. non-fiction, graphic novels, children’s picture books, etc.): Size of your ebook catalog/number of titles:

Once received, your information will be reviewed by Apple and the iBookstore Business Team will contact you at a future date.

Thank you for your interest in the iBookstore.

Best Regards,

Jason Grice Apple Developer Support

That’s a friendly enough of a response from Jason, but the “Big Ugh!” in his reply is that, unlike the Amazon Kindle, your books will have to be first vetted by Apple before they might appear as an iBook for sale.

We know Apple has a control issues — especially when it comes to getting an App approved — but doesn’t this “reviewed by Apple” phrase for iBook submissions reek a bit of condescension and feel like censorship and look like panty sniffing for “inappropriate” content?

Do we actually believe Apple will read every book before approving it for sale as an iBook?  If Apple are not reading every single book, then what, exactly, are they “reviewing?”  Publisher reputation?  Book title?  Selected excerpts?  Genre appropriateness?

Should a book submission be judged by the same technical and aesthetic standard as an App?  Or is there more of an inherent, non-negotiable, difference in taste and thought and intention that goes into the writing and reading of a book than there does in coding and utilizing an App?

The iPad will be big — I predicted that here long before any mainstream media outlet — yet I can’t help but express concern now that it seems only selected books, and not all submitted books by default, will be sold via iTunes and that just doesn’t sit right with me even though Steve Jobs thinks reading is dead.

We authors and independent book publishers prefer to let the marketplace of ideas do the buying and the picking without any sort of outside filter — or overt censorship or subtle discriminating denials — and using a “review” process to pick books for sale will only do more damage than enlightening in the long view when it comes to propagating big ideas expressed in small print.

9 comments

  • Gordon Davidescu

    Seems like their MO to review everything submitted to them — be it apps, books or anything else that will come out of the pipeline in the future. I imagine that big publishers will have a much easier time than smaller ones as they will assume the big publishers already have their own vetting process.
    Then again, I had to wait three or four days after I submitted my Kindle book before it went live — but finding out how to submit it was way easier than your process! :)

  • Gordon —
    The submitted Kindle books delay isn’t editorial, though — you’re books aren’t being “reviewed” — it just takes 3-10 days for a submitted book to be processed by the system, indexed and made viewable for download in the Kindle store.
    I think of books more as songs than apps — does Apple have a similar “review” process for the songs they sell on iTunes? There’s a lot of explicit content on there, so if they are doing an active, song-by-song, review — which we know they are not — then something less transparent is at play in the land of the Apple.

  • Gordon Davidescu

    I imagine the books are easier to scan than songs — easier to find things that are ‘objectionable’ with text search than a music scan, I suppose.

  • Yes, that’s true, but doesn’t the context of the word matter? Can a machine divine intention and context in the abstraction?

  • Gordon Davidescu

    Most likely not, however — if they are against having vulgar words, it probably wouldn’t matter to them in which context the words are found.

  • Does Amazon censor bad words on Kindle books, Gordon? If so, do they also censor bad words in the hardcover books they sell?

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