Last month Sex Criminals writer Matt Fraction revealed via Twitter that the second issue of his and artist/co-creator Chip Zdarksy's acclaimed new series would not be available for in-app purchase via the ComXology app or anything else in Apple’s iOS marketplace. Sex Criminals is, as the title would suggest, at times a sexually explicit comic. So while it was disappointing, it wasn't overly surprising to learn that Apple would not make issue #2 or #3 available given the App Store's notoriously nebulous content guidelines, through which all downloadable content must pass. The surprise came when, as noted yesterday by Zdarsky, Apple not only rejected the upcoming issue #3 from iOS devices, but retroactively removed issue #1 as well, once again calling into question a curation policy that can best be described as consistently inconsistent.

The immediate question coming out of this situation is how or why Apple left the first issue of
Sex Criminals up for nearly two months before deciding to no longer make it available. Had this decision coincided with the release of the second issue, it would potentially make a bit more sense, as the answer could have been as simple as "we missed this the first time around, and are now noticing with the second issue that we should not have allowed this to go through." Again, that would be both disappointing and problematic, and would bring up many issues regarding censorship, but it would at least make a kind of
sense. Whatever circumstances led to Apple's decision to remove the first issue two months in leads to far more questions than answers, and reinforces many of the concerns for Apple's curator-based system of determining what products will and won't be made available on iOS.

Apple's decisions very likely have little to do with any kind of moral or ethical standards concerning sex or anything like that and almost everything to do with liability and corporate confusion. As our own Andy Khouri has reported before, adult comics are not the only victim of the App Store's arcane practices. Virtually every app developer has run up against the opaque barrier of Apple's app screening system. It's increasingly untenable -- even infuriating for some developers given the fact that Apple's separate iBooks and iTunes stores are managed by different sets of content standards, as evidenced by Sex Criminals' presence in iBooks and the routine distribution of rated and unrated motion pictures in iTunes.


Sex Criminals
Chip Zdarsky


We live in a society far more comfortable discussing and displaying images of violence than sex, and like many content providers Apple wants no part of dealing with any one of several conservative groups or other offended, litigious parties who may happen to come across sexually graphic material -- like Sex Criminals -- in the massively trafficked iOS marketplace. But even that dubious reasoning falls apart if it's not applied consistently. As consumers of all ages access digital material from Apple with increasing frequency, the company is going to have to be more flexible, if not more consistent, in terms of what content it deems appropriate. If not, consumers will eventually find another way to access their desired digital products.

In the case of Sex Criminals, they have. Customers are buying Sex Criminals with iBooks, which takes business away from the company's beloved iOS store. The book is also available from ComiXology's web store and in multiple digital formats from Image Comics directly, both of which preclude Apple from taking the 30% cut it's entitled to from iOS purchases and put more of the customers' money in the creators' pockets.

However, while it's a good thing Sex Criminals is still available to digital customers, Apple's iOS Store is the digital content marketplace, and not having their work available in it cuts Fraction and Zdarsky off from the reportedly vast number of readers who use the eminently convenient ComiXology app to buy comics with their mobile devices. 30% to Apple or not, we can safely assume this situation is hurting Sex Criminals' sales. With luck, the publicity stemming from this news will engender a substantial amount of readers to access Sex Criminals in any of the several other ways we've mentioned.

Maybe even a comic book shop.

Sex Criminals #3 is set for release next Wednesday, November 20.

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