Issuu, a popular document sharing service that may have provided some competition for Apple’s planned digital newsstand, has abandoned plans to release an iOS app after Apple rejected the company three times. The New York-based firm isn’t divulging many details, but hinted in its blog that its openness was the cause of its rejection by Apple. “Based on the latest rejection, we don’t think it’s realistic that we can get it approved,” Issuu co-founder and spokesman Martin Ferro-Thomsen told me in an interview. “We would have to make some changes we’re not comfortable with. We would have to restrict the community more than we’d like to. It’s really a sad day for us, because we love Apple, but it’s their platform and App Store, and we just live in it.”
Ferro-Thomsen speculated that Apple’s reported plans to launch a newsstand may have contributed to Issuu’s rejection. He said Issuu distributes its publications for free but is likely to consider a paid store in the next year, something that may compete against an Apple offering. Apple did not return a request for a comment. If the rejection is tied to Apple’s digital publishing platform, the issue raises questions about how much competition Apple will allow in its App Store. Apple has been criticized in the past for its opaque app review policies and has been investigated by regulators over its rejection of the Google Voice app. The company has more recently relaxed its stance somewhat and released App Store Review Guidelines. The rejection could also stem from concerns about content on Issuu. While Issuu has its own guidelines barring obscene and pornographic content, it may not have been enough to satisfy Apple, which has a history of denying apps that contain nudity or defamatory content.
Issuu first began as a free PDF reader and document-sharing site that became a popular platform for publishing magazines, newspapers and catalogs because of its magazine-like look and feel. The company decided last year to take the service to smartphones and tablets with Issuu Mobile, an app. In December of last year, the company released an Android app, which features access to 2 million publications, and has been downloaded 125,000 times. An iPhone app followed in the spring but was rejected, followed by another rejection this past summer. The latest denial came yesterday.
Issuu, which boasts more than 33 million readers, is popular with some independent magazines looking to build a following. It also hosts a lot of catalogs for companies, and recently unveiled a new ad system. Big-name publishers have turned to Issuu to preview a portion of their magazines, similar to a trailer for a magazine. Though Issuu hasn’t attracted very high-profile publications (though the New York Times’ T Magazine is one), it represents an easy way for smaller publishers to make their content available to consumers. Issuu only takes a flat fee for hosting the content for Issuu Pro users. Apple, meanwhile, is reportedly looking to get a cut of the ad revenue and manage subscription databases for publications in its newsstand, something some publishers are leery of.
There’s a possibility Apple has legitimate concerns about Issuu that neither company is divulging. But the repeated rejections open the door for some unflattering speculation. Apple has shown it can abide with competition like Amazon’s Kindle app, but it may be taking a tougher stance on competitors to its newsstand or at least until the service gets well off the ground.
Ferro-Thomsen said while Apple has been unwelcoming, Google, on the other hand, has been very helpful. The search giant distributes content on Issuu and even shipped an early Nexus One to Issuu to help it launch its Android app. Now, Issuu is looking at building up its HTML5 version of its website to reach out to iOS users. He said the company had built some basic functionality in, but will need to expand that to fully recreate the Issuu feel.
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