September 13, 2013 Last Updated 10:39 am

Has Apple decided that sex sells? Not likely, Russian developer plays games with their apps to skirt the app review team

Developers continue to play games with the App Store, trying hard to skirt the rules in order to get their apps approved. The results are that some apps get through that really should be put on hold. Others, though, are playing games that hide their true intentions to the Apple app review team.

One developer that I have mentioned several times here has already launched 80+ Newsstand apps just this year, flooding Apple’s Newsstand with similarly designed fitness “magazines” in hopes of ensnaring unsuspecting readers. The developers game plan is clearly to launch as many apps as possible hoping to win based on volume.

Newsexmags-3-lgToday the Newsstand sees three apps launched from a new developer account: ANASTASIYA RUDNEVA. Balloons magazine, Men’s stories and Nine magazine are universal Newsstand apps that offer “full access” for $15.99 a year.

A couple of years ago apps such as these might have made it through the review process but would have been pulled pretty quickly. Today one too often sees that approved apps from sources that are less than professional get into the store, and stay there.

All the app descriptions are in somewhat broken English. For instance, the app description for Nine reads “Magazine ‘Nine’ for men about girls and sex. The magazine will have a wonderful time.”

I think I see how these particular magazines made it past the review team. Each app contains screenshots of magazine covers that are pretty benign. But then a more provocative cover was inserted in as the app icon. Once the app is downloaded and installed you actually don’t get the magazines as seen – but instead gain access to another complete different set of magazines, Oh! Yeah!.

These same Oh! Yeah! magazines, interestingly enough, are actually available under their own name elsewhere in the Newsstand from another developer account – Dmitriy Nikolin.

The app description for these apps – surprise, surprise – go to the same blank website page as the new apps do. As for the description itself, it reads “Magazine Oh! Yeah! for men about girls, sports, and health. The magazine will have a wonderful time.” Sound familiar?

I’ve contacted Apple, though I am not really expecting a response and haver waited for over an hour (they did not respond to previous attempts to get information on their app review policies as regards to the Newsstand).

As I am not a prude, I really could care less about whether sex magazines start appearing in the Newsstand. Print sex magazines have shared space with general consumer magazines on physical newsstands for years.

The issue here, however, is the integrity of the tablet platform itself. An issue of Playboy that appears at Barnes & Noble is produced by a professional publisher that will publish another issue a month from now. If you want to read Playboy you know that if you subscribe you will get 12 issues.

But many of these new Newsstand apps are trying to sell annual subscriptions but rarely produce more than one issue. A look at over a dozen apps from one developer launching digital magazine apps shows that the store page contains only one or two issues, yet attempts to sell an annual subscription. The game is all about volume. If only ten people sign up for an annual subscription, but you have 50 apps in the store, you might end up selling a few hundred dollars with of… nothing. It’s hard to get rich this way, but maybe it’s a living.

I have been calling on Apple to hire a media professional with newspaper and/or magazine experience to handle media relations within the App Store for years. The situation we have now is not tenable and eventually the Newsstand itself will be judged to be a bad marketplace. Before this happens changes can be made to make the situation better.

  • Magazines launched into the Newsstand should actually sell the magazine it advertises in the app description. Any developer should be banned for life for trying to sell one magazine under the cover of another.
  • Apps should link to live websites that tell the reader who the publisher is
  • Magazine apps should be required to appear under the account of the publisher, rather than the developer. This will cost come publishers $99 a year in fees, but guarantees that the reader is getting the real thing.
  • Newsstand apps that end up not selling more than the one initial issue should be pulled for inactivity
  • The Newsstand search mechanism should be improved to allow finding titles easier and giving new releases a fighting chance.

The French realized they had a problem with the wine industry in the 1800’s and came up with a solution that allowed for wines to be authenticated and rated. It benefited the elite wineries, to be sure. But the idea was that the consumer would have confidence that when they were being a sold a bottle of Bordeaux that they were getting what they expected.

The magazine industry needs to work directly with the major digital newsstand owners to make sure readers are treated fairly. It is time to put an end to the Wild West days.