November 19, 2013 Last Updated 8:25 am

Entering Apple’s deep, dark hole

When the developer support team makes a mistake with your account, there is little hope of an immediate repair

This a somewhat modified version of the story that appeared on the TNM website on Monday, before it was known if the new Tablet Publishing would appear in Apple’s App Store…

There is a saying that when things go well one does not actually learn anything. But when things go badly you learn much more. By that definition I must have a PDF in Apple’s developer support system.

And it is badly broke.

Early last week, we at Talking New Media intended to unveil a shiny new app. But on the day it was to go live, and actually did for a while in the Australian app store, it was discovered that that the wrong name was on the account. Wrong name? How the hell could that happen?

The reason was that the Apple developer support team had migrated my personal developer account over to the new company name – but then botched the job badly. But that was just the beginning of the story. Then, in an effort to fix the problem they quickly relaunched the account under yet another name. Unfortunately, this is when the real trouble started.

Sinkhole-smYou see, you can’t have two accounts with the same banking and tax information. Had the support people told me this before they pressed “Go” I would have told them to stop. Because what happens next is that you enter Apple’s deep, dark hole.

In order to clear things up you need to be contacted by Apple’s tax department. And they don’t talk to you. They don’t talk to the developer support department. A week later, I still don’t know who they talk to.

So, you wait, and wait, for them to contact you. We’re still waiting.

Meanwhile, while the app had appeared for a sometime in the App Store prior to Apple creating a new name for the developer account, the question was whether it would go live again and ever be seen. It turns out that it did – again under the wrong name, my own, rather than under our business name. I find that somewhat embarrassing. But at least the app went live.

Meanwhile, the issue remains: why is Apple so unresponsive?

The fact of the matter is, that Apple and the other major app stores, just not not that into us publishers. Even if a magazine publisher were to release a Newsstand app that attracted 100,000 new subscribers, say at an annual subscription rate of $9.99 a pop, that would mean it would generate $1 million. Of that $300,000 would go to Apple.

But Apple generated $170 billion in revenue last year. To account for even 1 percent of sales you would have sell 567 million annual subscriptions. Any chance your magazine or newspaper is doing that well?

As a result, no developer support supervisor is willing to go the extra mile to make sure a problem gets solved. Between the needs of their developers, and their job at Apple, fear rules the day.

Anyone who has ever talked to the developer support team will tell you how friendly and helpful they men and women are. But as one supervisor admitted with resignation, they are “just a phone room.”

This can all be pretty hard to fathom for print publishers. It’s hard to imagine a situation where RR Donnelley, for instance, were to tell a publisher that they had messed up their account, and while this was not their fault, the printer would still have to stop printing their magazines.

But if that did happen, the publisher would naturally call their representative – that person who had worked so hard to win their business, probably has taken them to a Mets game (or a Yankees game if they really wanted their business).

But what if there was no representative, no one to call at the printer that, in the end, could do anything? You would probably move on to the next printer, right?

But that isn’t possible with Apple. You can develop for the Google Play store and for, but that leaves behind a large audience – it’s not like print, where no matter who prints your magazine, the distributor is the post office.

So many publishers skip the whole process of becoming developers. They let others do it, generally vendors who stick their own name on your publication, supposedly because this makes it easy for the publisher. But the result is a large portion of the industry is missing the boat on digital media development. It’s just too hard, too risky, too uncertain. They are right. But the alternative is not much better either.

More often than not, a situation like this will not occur. The last app I launched, over two years ago, went smoothly – assuming you ignore that fact that at first the app review team rejected the app. (I then wrote them to ask why they had rejected the app. A day or so later I then received word that the app would go live, without any changes at all.)

It’s all a big mystery, and when things go well then no one is the wiser. But when things go badly, and you fall into Apple’s hole, you are on your own.

The good news, I suppose, is that at least the damn app went live. As I told one support supervisor, if I had known that the app would go live, despite the foul up on the account, I would have been less persistent, less aggressive in trying to fix the problem. We publishing pros, I told him, deal with deadlines. We can’t have a major problem just hang there, we need to get it fixed. We are a dying breed. (And this whole episode almost killed off another one.)

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