Yesterday saw the removal of all of my iNewz apps from the Apple app store. Not something I really wanted to do, but something that was forced on me by the very people who stood to benefit the most from the apps: the news organizations who publish the news.
Yesterday was also the day that another RSS based news app, Pulse, was removed from the store despite being praised & shown on stage at WWDC by Steve Jobs. Why? Because the New York Times complained that the app contained the URL for their RSS feed. Quoting from the letter Apple received from the Times:
I note that the app is delivered with the NYTimes.com RSS feed preloaded, which is prominently featured in the screen shots used to sell the app on iTunes.
The same argument was made by Apple to me for the recent rejection of an update to iNewz (and a few more news feeds were cited as problematic too).
Is It Copyright Violation?
From my discussion with Apple’s developer relations last night, it seems that these organizations are happy to have their readers use a commercial RSS reader where they must type in the RSS feed URL, but they are not happy to have the URLs pre-loaded for the user to select from. Aside from the obvious stupidity of making it harder for people to find your content, the only difference between these two app designs is that the actual RSS feed URL is embedded in one. Does that mean that the New York Times considers its actual URLs to be copyright material? Can you even claim that a URL is copyrighted? Seems like a stretch.
The content itself is clearly copyright protected, but since all RSS readers present this in roughly the same way, to complain about ones with pre-loaded feed URLs but be happy about ones where the feed URLs are entered by end users implies that it is not the content itself that is the problem. It will be the same in both cases.
Or are they just worried about the apps using the New York Times name (and perhaps some content via screenshots) in their marketing materials? If so, why not just ask the developers not to use their name and/or content in the app store copy?
More Readers Is Better, No?
One assumes that these companies include RSS feeds for their content in order to encourage more readers to visit their website. If they don’t want people to use RSS feeds, why have them? The feeds are published by the news organisations, and they control the amount of content inside them. Feeds are essentially a promotional vehicle. By including their feed URLs, a news reader application is essentially providing them with free advertising. Other industries actually pay for this type of referral!
Having more applications out there that promote your content, as long as it delivers the users to the content when they want to read more, would seem to be only beneficial. Unless they don’t really want people visiting their website. If they think that making it harder to read the news online is going to drive people back to their paper products, or force them to subscribe to an in-house electronic version, they are likely to be disappointed. And if they really do want to do that, then why have the RSS feeds at all?
Even more frustrating for me, not only did the iNewz apps have the potential to bring new readers to a whole selection of publications they might not otherwise have even known about, it went further and allowed them to share articles with their followers on Twitter. And from there, out to even more people via the @iNewz Twitter feed that re-tweeted any article shared using an iNewz application.
That’s even more free promotion for the news organisations, and even more eyeballs on their content web pages.
The claim that these news apps, because they are not free apps, are commercial use of the feeds is also missing the point. The app developer gets a one time payment of a few dollars for their work in writing the software and marketing it. There is no cost to the news organisations whose feeds are being included for that development work, for the marketing, nor for any updates necessary to keep the app working or improve the user experience. Essentially, as long as the app drives users to their site to read the full story always, they are getting free promotion of their content.
And more readers on their website, means more ad revenues. And those are ongoing revenues, not one-time micro-payments. They should be considering rev-share deals for that revenue with the folks writing news apps, not banning us from helping them boost their circulation!