App-rehension over iTunes rules

Cosmo's Sex app nets $100,000 despite ban on racy content

After a winter purge in which it rid its iTunes store of apps with sexual or other material deemed racy, is Apple lightening up?

Given Apple's supposed nudity ban, some were surprised to see the June iPhone/iPad version of GQ ($4.99 per issue) with cover model Miranda Kerr dressed down to her stockings and a deep tan. Cosmopolitan has a saucy Sex Position of the Day ($1.99), with step-by-step instructions and colorful illustrations. Apple also is cool with Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit app, updated in May, with little more than videos of its models. Additionally, there are many other apps offering sex advice and photos of scantily clad women.

Yet Apple has rejected other relationship service, gay culture and political content, fueling charges that it's applying a double standard to its app offerings. (Playboy has an app, but it's a nudity-free preview of the magazine.) A request for comment from Apple was not returned by deadline.

"It's a form of censorship, and having to have Apple approve your content is kind of concerning," said Joe Landry, svp, group publisher of Here Media, a publisher of gay-themed media.

"It is a challenge to understand where the line gets drawn from a content standpoint," added Jeanniey Mullen, global evp and CMO of digital publishing platform Zinio. When full replicas of Playboy and Penthouse can be read on a PC but not on the iPad, she explained, "It is confusing to consumers."

Nicole Mills, associate publisher of marketing for Cosmo, said that the Sex Position app is "cute" and not overly graphic. "The way we position the app, it's all about relationships, not boobs," noted Mills.

But one men's magazine editor saw in the app an anti-male bias. "I think some content aimed at men might provoke more suspicion," said this editor, who like most critics would only speak anonymously for fear of upsetting Apple. Cosmo's Sex app has sold some 70,000 downloads so far, netting the Hearst title nearly $100,000, based on a 70% rev share with Apple.

For now, publishing executives are erring on the side of caution, combing through their print issues looking for content that Apple might object to. Adding to the confusion, Apple isn't distributing concrete guidelines.

"It's all pretty anecdotal," said Terry McDonell, editor, Sports Illustrated Group. "I think they're more concerned that the functionality is good."
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