Blog Post

Apple Bringing Down the Axe On Aggregators, e-Books and e-Readers


Normally, Apple (s aapl) removes apps from the App Store at a rate we can digest and analyze, but it looks like it’s now adopting a different tactic, maybe to frustrate criticism with sheer volume. This time around, it has given the boot to a stunning 900 apps in one fell swoop. The apps aggregated various web content, and charged $4.99 for the service, despite not being copyright holders of any of it.

The app’s developer, a company called Perfect Acumen owned by one Khalid Shalik, employed 26 Indian and Pakistani programmers who churned out 943 apps last year alone. The purpose of all of the apps was to grab content tailored to a specific target audience and just display it on the iPhone. Even this simple task it didn’t handle very well, according to user reviews, which mainly criticized the app, and worse still, Perfect Acumen held no copyrights for any of the content they republished, including photos of hot celebrities, which tend to catch the attention of fair-use publication enforcers.

According to The iPhone Blog, Apple says it revoked Perfect Acumen’s developer account and removed the apps when Shalik or any company representative failed to respond to any of the 100+ complaints Apple received as a result of the applications. Other developers also criticized Acumen’s shady marketing tactics. All in all, it seems like for once, Apple’s review process actually got something right, albeit belatedly.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Perhaps as a direct result of the kinds of complaints received against Perfect Acumen, Apple seems to be clamping down on all content source provider apps, according to Erica Sadun at TUAW. First to go are e-book applications, which, according to TUAW’s sources, are now being met with a blanket rejection policy because of third-party rights infringement. Like its stance on charitable applications, it just doesn’t want the onus of having to vet each app for the accuracy of its claims.

The policy appears to be a blanket one, though, and covers even apps where the developer is the owner of the content, or has the right to reproduce it and can prove it. It’s bound to be a major door-closing for app store developers, and one that will only continue to sour developer sentiment towards Apple and the way it does business. Finally, the icing on the cake, all e-book readers apparently also now run afoul of Apple’s policies (which might explain the lack of a Stanza update in recent memory).

It’s one thing to make sure you’re covered when it comes to legitimate accusations of enabling copyright infringement, but it’s another altogether to wage war on an entire subcategory (literally, since “Books” is one of the App Store’s categories of apps) of software. I suspect this has something to do with the rumored launch of a tablet-type device in the fall, which is said in some circles to have e-reader capabilities.

If so, this preemptive thinning of competition borders on the sinister, and I’m seriously considering a permanent switch to RIM (s rimm) just to protest these shady business practices. That said, there’s still plenty of opportunity to prove me wrong Apple. Let’s hope you do.

15 Responses to “Apple Bringing Down the Axe On Aggregators, e-Books and e-Readers”

  1. While I would personally welcome the reduction of single “ebooks” in the app store book category I would be extremely upset if general e-book reader apps, such as Stanza, were removed.

    I have long felt frustrated by the huge number of so called ebooks in the app store which have just reproduced books as a single app. This is especially frustrating as Apple does not provide categorisation within the books category so you have to go through page after page after page of books by the same developer to find what you are looking for.

    My understanding was that OS v3.0 provided a mechanism to create a main app that then allowed the purchaser to purchase additional content. I would like to see Apple work with developers to convert these reams and reams of separate book apps into this format and so reduce the overload in this category.

  2. I don’t get it. If it’s an RSS aggregator (reader), then how can they enforce any copyright on the content? If you could, people could sue MS, Apple and Mozilla out of existence simply for offering a Web browser (another type of “reader” software).

    If you publish an RSS feed of your content, it’s the same as saying “please, show my content everywhere.”

  3. Ashley Grayson

    This bit of not-quite-journalism highlights a problem but brings no clarity to the issue; instead it descends to a typical genY rant with no clear assessment of the issues. Switch to RIM because Apple has no easy fix for a problem caused by others?–get real. The real problem with ebook reader apps is the number of scavenger publishers who try to profit from selling public domain books or who “collect” in-copyright works that no one seems to be paying attention to and publish them; then “graciously” agree to pay royalties if caught. I personally have no problem with paying $0.99 for the convenience of a public domain ebook delivered in an appealing ereader format, but that’s not the issue. Apple isn’t focused on tracking the chain of title on every ebook that might be offered. Look how easily Amazon was duped by an ebook publisher of 1984. The scam publisher didn’t have the rights. This issue of copyright ownership is a solvable problem but at the moment the only people actively involved are all trying to pull a fast one on the authors or estates that own the rights to many works and cut themselves in on the author’s income. Apple’s (and Amazon’s) policies are formed to meet a one-size-fits-all-circumstance and the issue of ebooks is not yet that easy.

  4. The criticism is really mounting on Apple, and quite justifiably. It’s as though they’ve declared war on developers and users of the iPhone/iPod Touch as of late. As one who has owned each iteration of the iPhone, and also a member of a team who is currently working on developing applications, this worries me.

    I still prefer my iPhone as a complete package to any other phone on the market. and certainly even with the current limitations and recent crackdowns, the App Store is a profitable endeavor for a developer. However, the competition is coming up fast, and Apple can’t afford to take steps backwards at this point.

  5. Khalid is gone, great. But what about the others? And what about the thinning of e-book applications? That tidbit made me sit up straight and take notice. If apps like Stanza and Eucalyptus suddenly disappear from the app store, that’s a direct blow to one of the five major things the device does: 1) E-mail, 2) Internet, 3) Media, 4) Phone, 5) E-books.

    And I have no interest in using an Apple approved e-book service. Hell will freeze over before I give them more power to control media and content dissemination.

    I’m personally a bit more optimistic about the Stanza delays, though. Since Amazon just bought the company, I am hopeful that they are integrating their services. Amazon now owns Mobipocket, Stanza, and Kindle. They need to do some fat trimming and integrate the services into a single, cohesive whole that can disseminate e-content across computers, iPhone, Kindle and other devices.

    My guess is that they are doing so and will probably make announcements as we approach on the holiday season.

  6. RattyUK


    Hey, before you start to slag Apple off for killing stuff. Khalid was a rip off merchant of high degree. Please let him develop for Android and even the Palm Pre and then you will see the sort of hassles he caused other developers in the iPhone ecosystem. Basically he was a spam coder generating either completely rubbish news aggregators or worse, complete rip-offs of other people’s software. He’s gone. Great. That is at least five developers I know who are ecstatic on this news.

  7. tiroger

    What’s really shocking is Apple’s lack of an official response or explanation! They know the app store is broken, users know it and more importantly developers know it’s broken. So why hasn’t Apple come out and say something, anything about what they’re doing to remedy the problems?

    The app store is turning out to be a real nightmare for Apple, made worse by the way they’ve handled it: opaque as usual!

    The iPhone is a great device, but at what cost? It’s only a matter of time before other platforms, like WebOS and Android catch up to Apple. Apple’s stranglehold in this market will not last if they keep alienating their customers and developers.

  8. There will be plenty of people who will buy the iPhone as it gets better with each iteration and there will come a crop of developers who develop great apps instead of crybabies who whine when their apps didn’t get approved.

  9. This kind of thing (along with the Google Voice rejections, and all the others) are really starting to drive people away from not only developing for the iPhone, but also purchasing one. I know there isn’t going to be a mass exodus of happy iPhone users, but for those of us who haven’t gotten one yet, this is really making me consider an Android phone over the iPhone just for the open nature you have there.