A Gateway To (Not) Reading: Tablets, Comic-Books, & Corporate Gate-Keeping

by Mychal R. Ludwig, Head Editor, INALJ New Mexico

A Gateway To (Not) Reading: Tablets, Comic-Books, & Corporate Gate-Keeping

MychalLudwigThis year, Apple has rejected almost six-dozen comic books for in-application sale on the ubiquitous Comixology app, including Time’s comic book of 2013, Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. As of this writing, all of the first three issues of the acclaimed sequential art series have been at some point, and are currently, unable for purchase from the app. These comics remain, however, available directly from iBooks.



So what then, is the problem here?



The main issue revolves around the lack of consistent enforcement of clear policies concerning what does or does not make up “objectionable” material in a comic book, whether it’s the art or writing.



I am well aware that Apple Corporation and other digital booksellers are businesses and can set and enforce their content policies to their liking. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily bode well for the reader/customers who would like to make their own decisions as to what they want to read.



As discussed at length in a recent CBLDF article, Apple considers unspecified content in the publication to be “pornographic” as defined by Webster’s dictionary. Apparently, Apple doesn’t consider the content of the admittedly mature comic book to have any educational or aesthetic value for its customers, age, interest, or background aside. The obvious problem with this conclusion is that it clearly goes against the opinions of the many publications and critics that have applauded Sex Criminals for its artistic value, as well as its intelligent and fresh dialogue on human sexuality. And let’s not forget that the book has done amazingly well both in print and digitally regardless of Apple making it unavailable in the most well known online marketplace for comic books, so clearly it’s popular with readers.



What does this have to do with libraries, besides making it difficult for librarians to direct users to content they want to consume digitally?



While libraries aren’t in the business of selling digital or physical comic books, this situation with Apple clearly brings up the issue of corporate gate-keeping of content. This, paired with the increasing importance and reliance of many library users on smart phones and tablets for Internet access and as a reading device, clearly concerns libraries, if not now, in the near future.



If Apple opaquely enforces its vague policies in one reading focused application, what’s to prevent them from acting similarly with library borrowing apps, or library e-reader apps? While content curation this invasive is clearly Apple’s legal right, this directly goes against library ethics and practices, and clearly make it more difficult for patrons to access the content they seek.



What do you think about Apple or other online booksellers regarding their content policies in apps? Do you agree that this concerns libraries and their patrons? Do you know if Apple has similar issues with library apps?



Bibliography & Further Readings:


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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