See update from Apple PR at the bottom of the post. Despite what at least one developer was told, the ebook category is not 'banned from the store.'
Apple recently invited a great deal of criticism after it rejected Google's Google Voice application from App Store. At the same time, it pulled third party GV apps leaving their developers without recourse and forced to swallow refund costs that exceeded their initial per-sale earnings. Today Engadget notes Daring Fireball's story of a simple dictionary being censored. Now it looks as if Apple may be targeting the e-book section of App Store.
TUAW has learned that Apple has begun rejecting all e-book submissions because "this category of applications is often used for the purpose of infringing upon third party rights. We have chosen to not publish this type of application to the App Store." At first glance, this policy seems in line with Apple's approach to applications that promise charitable contributions. Apple cannot police the developers and will not allow possibly fraudulent postings on their store. Apple does not want to be in the position of vetting rights claims.
At the same time, Apple has been rejecting applications from content providers who do in fact own the rights to their materials and can prove those rights. A colleague who spoke on the condition of anonymity related that a project he developed for a national content syndicate was rejected without recourse. He still got paid for his work but the application languishes without an outlet.
Apple isn't stopping with content source providers. They're also targeting those who provide media browsing tools. Another developer who built an e-book reader received a recent rejection along the same lines. The application might be used to read copyright infringing books, so Apple will not let it in App Store. In an e-mail, he wrote, "Leaving aside the presumption of innocence, [what] about iTunes and iPod; shouldn't they be banned too? After all many users indeed are using them to listen to the music that is not always legally obtained."
It's obviously premature to assign an external motivation to Apple and TUAW has no evidence whatsoever that Apple is using these rejections to pave its way to a new market. At the same time, the timing of these rejections couldn't be worse. With Apple rumored to enter the e-book market sometime in the winter, this new policy could fly very close to regulatory scrutiny.
Apple wrote to TUAW to clear up the speculation around ebook app approvals. From a representative at Apple:
"We have not stopped approving ebook readers and ebooks in fact we've approved 221 new ebooks to the App Store since 7/30/09. The book category in the App Store lists 6,000 apps and this doesn't cover the full scope since ebooks are included in other categories like medical, reference and education."