by Mychal R. Ludwig, Head Editor, INALJ New Mexico
A Gateway To (Not) Reading: Tablets, Comic-Books, & Corporate Gate-Keeping
This 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:
comicbookresources.com/2013/ 11/comics-a-m-apple-rejected- 59-comics-for-in-app-sale- this-year/
2013/12/04/arts-and- entertainment/slide/top-10- comics-and-graphic-novels/
ethangach/2013/12/09/what-the- proliferation-of-tablets- means-for-comic-books/