Playboy Going on iPad: What is Apple's Stance on Porn?

Last Updated Jan 19, 2011 12:08 PM EST

Last night Playboy founder Hugh Hefner tweeted that the entire magazine catalog, from its 1953 launch, will be available on the Apple (APPL) iPad this March. Furthermore, unlike the current iPad app, the magazine would be uncensored. If Hefner is correct, the magazine has put Apple in the awkward position of either recanting its anti-porn stance altogether or making unfair exceptions for major money makers like Playboy.

The Price of Moral Judgments
Last year Apple head Steve Jobs went on a well-known rant saying that, if you want porn, go to the Google (GOOG) Android platform. While it might have demonized Android phones and tablets, Jobs' statement also painted Apple in a corner: What if Apple actually wanted to support adult entertainment in the future -- not just porn, but mainstream content with nudity or aggressive language?

Jobs may rally against porn, but it's clear Apple has had a hard time determining what exactly porn is:

As BNET's Jim Edwards said regarding a recently banned app:

Apple (AAPL)'s decision to ban a Christian app that argues against gay marriage illustrates the problems companies bring on themselves when they start making moral judgments about their customers' activities.


It is silly and financially precarious for a company to limit consumers based on its own moral beliefs.

Making Exceptions
The second problem here is that Apple is bending its own rules to include Playboy's nudes while shooting down smaller publishers.

Apple already made it clear it will roll out the red carpet for bigger brands. In a New York Times interview last year, Philip W. Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing, said that more risque material would be accepted in the Apple Store if it was from "a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format." Hence there being a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition app and, recently, a Victoria's Secret catalog app, but several cases of similar content from smaller companies being rejected.

If Hefner is correct and Apple is allowing six decades worth of Playboy nudes on the iPad, then similar publications will want the same treatment. And what counts as similar publications? In all fairness, are Penthouse and Hustler, both arguably having equally important editorial and visual content, allowed to be unedited on the iPad, too? This is the business dilemma that happens when moral judgments are unnecessarily misplaced on consumer products, especially when Apple is trying to determine what the Supreme Court can barely agree on.

The ultimate irony here is that the larger porn business doesn't care about Apple's opinion. When I interviewed Vivid Entertainment's Steven Hirsch for the Adult Entertainment Expo earlier this month, he made it clear that his customers would always be able to get porn on an Apple device by using the one thing the company wouldn't censor: the Internet browser. For all the tough talk offered by Steve Jobs, Apple banning "sexy" apps doesn't matter to the adult industry as a whole.

As far as publications, Playboy absolutely wins for having an uncensored app that might actually move units, but Apple and its publisher relations will be stuck between a rock and a hard place once the catalog launches this Spring.

Photo courtesy of Twitter
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