December 19, 2013 Last Updated 10:02 am

New digital publishing environments make it hard for publishers to retain control

From app stores and aggregation apps, to vendor services, keeping control of your content is becoming harder

There is a generally accepted view that publishers are in the content business and that the forms they publish that content has less importance than the content itself. But more and more, publishers are finding that their partners in publishing – the vendors, app development companies and digital newsstands – are taking at least partial control of their content.

For many publishers who have rushed to make sure their content is available through aggregation tools, or have built Facebook and other social media pages, the issue of content control is much discussed. Is it worth placing content in Flipboard or through Google’s Newsstand when the design of the content is controlled and the question can honestly be asked about who is really financially benefiting from the product – the aggregator or the publisher?

The situation is a little different inside the various app stores where publishers often use third party app developers or platforms that will not only provide the publishing solution or create the app, but then place the apps into the app stores themselves. The problem is that many of them do so under their own developer accounts. The idea is that this is a convenience and eases the process of getting the app into the store (and it does) – there is no need for the publisher to create their own developer accounts.

The problem, though, comes when the app’s name is exactly the same as the newspaper or magazine. This a common thing: your magazine is called XYZ, so shouldn’t the app be called XYZ? Then, when the publisher changes vendors, or wishes to launch a new app, the name of the old app prevents using that exact name again. This is why some apps have such long and convoluted names, or at least put the appendage “for iPad” or “for iPhone” at the end of their app names.

In some cases, the platform owner really is the publisher. Several new platforms have recently launched that attracts authors to create their own digital magazines. These new products have their own app names, but appear under the vendor’s account. It is hard to argue against this because the vendor really is serving the role of publisher, not only providing a technical service, but often editing and promotional services, as well. But if these authors wish to expand on their efforts and create a different version of their digital magazine using another solution, who really owns the magazine? (It depends, of course, on each vendors rules and regulations.)

But even publishers who feel like they have taken total control of their digital products run into conflicts. For instance, inside the various digital newsstands and app stores, owners of those distribution often have guidelines that, while at first seem logical, actually control content.

TabPub-iPad-GuideTake TNM’s own digital magazine app, Tablet Publishing. The idea behind the app came out of conversations about the need for a Guide to the various digital publishing platforms available for publishers. Konstantinos Antonopoulos and I discussed what our criteria should be for considering a company for the Guide. We settled on the simple requirement that the solution has to be able to produce a digital magazine, preferably one that can be placed inside the Apple Newsstand.

When we decided to use the Adobe Single Edition solution in order to be as neutral as possible, this limited the app to a stand-alone app inside the Apple App Store. As we created the Guide, examples of apps were included in the company pages and links were embedded to iTunes. We really never gave it a second thought.

But because these links all went to iTunes, we received no warnings from Apple and the app sailed through the App Store review process (in the normal five days). But what if one of the vendors only offered apps that could be sold through Google Play or Amazon? Links to those stores would be considered a violation of Apple’s developer guidelines.

But what if the app were not a stand-alone app, but a Newsstand app? Is a link to Google Play or Amazon inside the latest issue of Wired a violation of Apple guidelines? No, they occur all the time.

So even though we would consider Tablet Publishing magazine a news product, Apple ultimately controls what we can do inside the app – at least in this one area.

The guideline was set up to guard against apps being developed that use the Apple ecosystem to sell goods and services outside the system – Amazon’s Kindle app, for instance, can not directly sell you books.

OK, this might make some sense. But what if the publisher has no financial interest in the product, but is only linking to the Google Play or Amazon stores in a news story or as part of a scholarly book on digital publishing? Yes, Apple will prevent you from doing that (this has already effected one of my own eBooks).

Arguing about the difference between e-commerce and news with an app review team member is a pointless exercise, like arguing with the IRS over an expense you’ve taken. If you really want to fight it you better lawyer up, who really wants to do this over a link?

It is this creeping control of content that sometimes gives me the shakes. It all seems so innocent until you realize that you’ve started to lose control.

  • […] Talking New Media New digital publishing environments make it hard for publishers to retain control Talking New Media There is a generally accepted view that publishers are in the content business and that the forms they publish that content has…  […]