Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pulse app is quietly updated; Times, Apple remain quiet

Yesterday there was much commotion about the actions of Times lawyers as they tried, and briefly succeeded in having Apple pull the Pulse News Reader from the iTunes app store. But the app is back, including a new update, and everyone is being pretty quiet about the incident. ("It never happened.")
So what's going on? Who knows, but here are some guesses:

1) The lawyers did what lawyers do, protect the property of the parent company. I used to work for McGraw-Hill, and the legal team there was like having a big brother. Any time there was a dispute with a customer or an outside entity they would pick up the phone, ask some really smart questions, and handle things. One time while I was a publisher in the San Francisco office they called about an incident, asked me a series of questions, and then told me not to worry about it. When I got off the phone I remember saying to myself that "I'm glad I'm not the other guy." They handled things.

In this case, it is possible that they were doing what seemed like the right thing, protecting the property rights of the Times. But RSS feeds are the creation of the publisher, of course. And they are created for one big reason: they drive traffic to the website. Without those feeds how many less readers would end up at the Times site, and how much less money would be generated. It's possible that someone told the legal guys "let it go".

2) The developer agreed to comply by deleting the Times feed. This would be simple enough. And lo-and-behold there is an updated app in iTunes today. The supposed reason for the update is performance issues, and since I have downloaded the app (guess I'm cheap) I don't know if there are any feed changes. But since users can delete and add feeds at the pleasure, the whole feed issue seems crazy anyway.

(To be clear, it was the intention of the developers to delete the Times feed and resubmit the app, but the app reappeared in iTunes before the update could be made -- thus the mystery.)

3) Apple said back off. Not likely though. If Apple didn't like bad publicity they wouldn't have pulled the app in the first place.

4) Apple reacted too quickly and realized they made a mistake. Possible, but also unlikely. But if you combine #1 with #4 that might be closer to the truth.
Since the Pulse News Reader incident occurred additional paid news reader apps have appeared in the app store including one called Custom News for iPad (see left) which promises content from the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News and other newspapers (but definitely not the NYT!). Unfortunately, in their push for more and more apps to offer, Apple has created a chaotic marketplace for media companies. It will be hard, though, to put the genie back in the bottle.