It’s easy to take jabs at Apple for sometimes being too “closed.” From restrictions on mobile apps to the limited customizability of the iPad, it’s a reputation that the company has earned even as it sells millions upon millions of devices. Even the original Macintosh infamously discouraged tinkerers by requiring specialized tools to physically open it up.
While it may frustrate many hobbyists and hackers, this approach is simply a cost of being one of Apple’s millions of otherwise satisfied customers. It’s rare that the company crosses over the line between closed and alarming. But that’s exactly what just happened.
The trouble started shortly after Seth Godin submitted his latest e-book to Apple’s iBookstore. The marketing pundit and super-prolific author penned a book titled “Stop Stealing Dreams” and sent the finished copy along to Apple for approval. Much to his shock, the book was rejected.
The reason? An email from Apple identified “too many links to Amazon store” as the prime offense. Yes, simply linking to one of Apple’s competitors is a bold and forbidden enough gesture to cause a book to get banned from its digital storefront.
As Godin himself outlines on PaidContent, this is pretty disturbing stuff. “What’s inside the book shouldn’t be of concern to a bookstore with a substantial choke on the marketplace,” Godin writes. “If it’s legal, they ought to let people read it if they choose to.”
On the iPhone, Apple has certain obligations to the carriers and its own market dominance, which sometimes lead the company to forbid certain features from finding their way onto the iOS platform. In many cases, this is understandable.
But this is different from free mobile WiFi tethering or other app features that directly compete with Apple or the carriers. These are books. You know, the things that have historically been banned and burned when the powers that be don’t appreciate their contents. Books contain ideas and information. You know, the stuff that’s supposed to be much more fluid and accessible thanks to technology.
Of course, the book-burning analogy has its limitations. Anybody who really wants to read Godin’s book can go get it from Amazon or in another format outside the iBookstore. But there’s something unsettling about a dominant player in a information-centric marketplace such as this refusing to offer a piece of content strictly for competitive reasons. How would we feel if Barnes and Noble refused to carry a book about the history or corporate philosophy of Borders or Amazon? Or if they wouldn’t order a book written by the CEO of a competitor, simply because doing so would inadvertently aid the enemy? Many people would rightly be freaked out by that.