During his opening keynote at WWDC 2010, Steve Jobs briefly showed the Pulse news reader as one of the applications available for the iPad, on the App Store. On the same day the application was taken down from the App Store due to a complaint from the Times Company, owner of the New York Times (NYT).
Originally I found out about this through Mike Cane’s irate rumblings in his iPadTest blog. While he is always quite colorful in his writing, he has the great virtue of being direct and to the point. This was stupid.
I started to write this post much earlier when I first learned that the New York Times had issued a complaint against the Pulse news reader for how their content was being used by them. As I looked up more information on this I found out that the application was back on the App Store, probably after removing the NYT’s RSS feed from the list of pre-loaded or suggested feeds. I read about the Times complaint and while still thinking it was a bad decision on their part not to want to be pre-loaded into the reader app, I thought them within their rights to do so. At that point I decided that there was no reason to continue writing abou this.
This changed when I came across a new update on the case where Robert Christie, a spokesperson for the NYT is reported to have said “We think it has been reinstated by error, and we have asked Apple for an explanation.”
That got me worked up again. After all, if the fellows remove the NYT from the pre-loaded list of RSS feeds there is nothing left for the company to complain about. Oddly, it turns out that despite the developers having submitted a new version of the App for approval by Apple, it hasn’t been approved yet and it is the original App that has been made available again.
Soon the new version of the App should be available from the App Store and the Times Company will have gotten its wish to be excluded from the default reading list of over 35.000 people who would be exposed to their content and which might click through to read more stuff on their site. This move by the Times Company should have their stockholders yanking their hair out. Turning away exposure to thousands of potential readers in a single act such as this is as dumb a move as I can think of.
Let’s look a bit deeper into the complaint by the Times Company against the App. There are three parts to the complaint, as I understand it. First as a paid application they were making commercial use of the NYT intellectual property without licensing it. Second, when the user selects an article it opens in an embedded browser, and it is therefore “framing” the site, which is against its terms of service and finally they were using the image of the NYT to promote their product.
Let’s start with the last item. I can understand the NYT not wanting their image to be used to suggest that they are recommending the App or in any way connected to it. A fair point and essentially just a matter of replacing the screenshots published on iTunes to show the content of other sites that aren’t bothered by that.
Now let’s look closely at the first two points.
Pulse is a news reader. An application designed with the purpose of reading RSS feeds. If you don’t want people to be able to read your RSS feed in the applications that are designed to do that, then perhaps you shouldn’t publish one.
By its nature as an RSS aggregator, Pulse displays lists of articles. It is reasonable to assume that a person that is making use of such an application reads more than one article and would probably like to go on to the next one once he/she finishes reading an article that happens to be published on the NYT website. In order to allow users to do so, Pulse employs an embedded browser just as any Twitter client on the iPhone or iPad does when you click on a link included in a tweet. In this respect Pulse is working as a browser. The only complaint I can imagine from how this actually works would be that Pulse starts by showing the user the text that is included in the Feed item in a plain white background and the user has to click on the “Web” button to actually go through to the full article in the website, but even then it would be a weak argument as the content shown is being provided in their published RSS feed and as once you have selected the “Web” option it will retain that setting until you select the text option again, even after you leave the app. If you don’t want your content to be read in a browser perhaps you shouldn’t have a website.
In fact, I can see much more reason for the Times Company to complain about the Reader view in Apple’s new Safari 5 browser which allows users to hide everything that is not a part of the article itself and read the full text without having to look at all the ads and links and menus that the website owner put in place.
This odd turn of events just shows how out of touch with reality some old media companies are and why so many of them are looking to the iPad for their salvation. Maybe it shows why they are in need of salvation in the first place.
If people don’t start to wake up, pretty soon we might be looking at some of the companies we now call old media and referring to them as decrepit media, or perhaps extinct media.
* Images: iTunes and screenshot of Pulse.