June 24, 2014 Last Updated 2:18 pm

Cooking Category: legitimate publishers edged out by scam artists in the Apple Newsstand

It is tough enough to have your app discovered in the Apple App Store, but in some Newsstand categories, fake digital magazines are starting to edge out real monthly magazines, making it nearly impossible for readers to know whether they can continue to trust Apple’s digital newsstand.

A look at the Cooking, Food & Drink category of the Apple Newsstand really points out the problem.

First, like all the categories in the Newsstand, Apple has stopped curating it. At the top of the category is artwork that was recently introduced – artwork that is supposed to be replaced with actual magazines or newspapers, but is not.

screen480x480Second, the “New” promotional area remains broken, not with the latest new releases, or new releases chosen by Apple’s App Store team, but rather simply all the apps in alphabetical order. As I have written before, scam artists have pounced, creating apps that start out with “A” or double “A” to be the first seen.

AAs Found and Wine Lover is a good example. The app comes from a developer who is using the account “Andrew Alexander” – hence, the AA at the front of the name. But the link in the App Store goes to a company under the name 480 Publishing. No names are found online, and a search of the Who Is directory shows that the developer has wisely chosen to hide the owner of the website.

The developer, though, has 24 such apps inside the Newsstand, all of which start out with an A. The food and wine magazine is predictably horrible.

“SCAM – Do Not Buy,” writes the only review inside the App Store. “This is NOT the real Food and Wine. Save your money. I’m reporting this and going to try to get my money back. Even I’d this is a legitimate magazine – the content is completely worthless, poorly written, and terribly formatted.”

The good news is that subscribing to the app will allow you to cancel within 7 days without being charged.

The problem can be seen in the Paid part of the category, there are eight titles. Of those eight titles, none of them appear to be legitimate. In fact, they may all come from the same source, though they appear under different developer accounts. (One of the accounts points back to a website that claims it publishes out of a building on Madison Ave. in NYC though it was registered from Australia.)

Luckily, once you dig deeper, actually make the effort to go into the Newsstand things get better. In the free app area, where the vast majority of the titles are found, one can sort the category by release date to find any new titles that might have been launched. Sadly, here we find new apps from someone who is releasing apps under the name Hannah Ruiz. These apps looks very much like the apps released by someone who has been actively working the Newsstand for months now, releasing one look-a-like app after another. One magazine I looked at was called one thing on the cover, but used a completely different name in the actual digital magazine.

Do many readers fall for these apps? Apparently not. Few reviews for these apps can be found in the App Store, and few have any ratings at all, attesting to the low number of downloads they probably are producing.

But these apps make it even harder to find legitimate publications and are actually encouraged by digital publishing platforms that have encouraged this time of mass production of digital magazine apps. One vendor told me recently that they have 1,500 such apps now in the Newsstand, or almost 15 percent of all the titles to the found. No doubt their revenue share model encourages multiple launches, and with Apple looking the other way, it is easy to slam the store with titles. (Do you know any legitimate publishers that can launch 11 new titles in a month’s time?)

Also, of these apps released, none have produced a second issue – at least none to date.

TNM has written about this problem when looking at other categories, and on several occasions has talked about Apple’s new partnership with Russian pornographers that produce apps such as this one. But a far bigger issue is the one involving bogus apps selling annual subscriptions. One developer TNM has written about has apparently had their apps pulled from the store, but is likely back again with this new Hannah Ruiz account (a sure sign being an obsession with workout magazine titles and the same look for all the apps).

So, how to fix this? I have two suggestions:

First: for any new start-up which wants to offer an annual subscription the publisher should be required to have already produced at least two issues. If not, then only a single issue buy should be offered. When the second issue appears inside the app’s store page then annual or monthly subscriptions can then be offered.

Second: all digital magazines should be required to contain a page with information on the publisher. In print magazines that go through the post office, there is a standard set of language used that is required. All publishers are used to this already so simply requiring that some kind of information that identifies the publishers should be no problem. One thing in common to the apps described in this post is that none contain any contact information at all, no names of editors, authors, designers.

Could Apple monitor this? Possibly not. But if they can not, then Apple should consider a partnership with another entity that might be able to serve as such a monitor. But Apple says it has over 50,000 employees, it would be nice if one were dedicated to making sure the Newsstand returns to being an attractive place to launch a digital publication.

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