Zan Christensen, the founder of LGBT comics publisher Northwest Press, is no stranger to corporate censorship of the books he submits to digital publishing platforms. But after Apple’s iBookstore rejected all three of Northwest’s most recent offerings due “prohibited explicit or objectionable content,” Christensen got creative and resubmitted one of them with custom apple-themed censor bars so that “Apple’s customers are able to see and understand what they are giving up by allowing Apple to decide what’s best for them.”
In his regular comics column at LGBT-focused news site Unicorn Booty, Christensen acknowledged that of course Apple and other private companies such as Google and Amazon have the right to decide what sort of content they will host and sell; he just wants customers to realize that this new generation of all-in-one booksellers, publishers, and distributors largely have not adopted the same strong commitment to free speech that has traditionally reigned in print publishing.
Diamond Comic Distributors, Christensen pointed out, had no objection to including the Kickstarter-funded erotica collection Hard to Swallow in its May PREVIEWS catalog for print retailers. Hoping to release the book by Justin Hall and Dave Davenport on ebook platforms simultaneously with the print version, Northwest submitted it to Apple last week but was quickly notified that it would not be distributed on that platform in its uncensored state.
While Christensen waits to hear whether the version of Hard to Swallow with strategically placed apples will fare any better, he encouraged readers to simply keep in mind that “Apple’s iBooks is not a free marketplace of ideas, no matter how much it wants to portray itself as such. Apple gets to dictate what’s ‘inappropriate’ and what’s not, but wants to do it behind the scenes.” The same goes for other ebook platforms as well, of course–although one bright spot Christensen notes is that ComiXology, acquired by Amazon in 2014, seems to have reversed course where adult content is concerned and now “trust[s] readers to make their own decisions about what to read.” Here’s hoping their competitors in digital publishing will soon follow!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.