'New Yorker' Editor David Remnick: We Won't Let Apple Censor Us

Every magazine editor is anxious to create a successful iPad edition, but The New Yorker's David Remnick isn't so anxious that he's ready to cave into Apple's (AAPL) censorship. "We're going to publish what we publish," Remnick said Tuesday, speaking at a Conde Nast-hosted breakfast discussion on digitizing iconic print brands. "If the Pentagon can't talk us out of a story, then Apple in Cupertino isn't going to throw me off."

Remnick was responding to reports of a mandate by Steve Jobs that the Apple store not sell pornographic apps. The declaration is affecting not just the likes of Playboy and Penthouse but also fashion magazines, which often feature semi-nude models. (Dazed & Confused, a British title, has reportedly nicknamed its iPad version the "Iran edition.") The New Yorker doesn't do nudity often, but it does make some use of it, sometimes even in its cartoons. If Jobs can't abide the sight of breasts on his immaculate touch screens, one imagines that, say, this 2003 portrait of singer Chan Marshall by Richard Avedon wouldn't pass muster.

But Remnick was adamant that Jobs will not have a say in The New Yorker's content. Neither, he said, will focus groups, a popular tool for other magazine editors (although social media, with its instant feedback, is rapidly making them irrelevant.) "I don't want to hear what's behind that glass, partly because I can guess, and partly because I want you to be surprised," he said. "I know that the majority of the people in the room will say they didn't finish that 12,000-word piece on Afghanistan. I get that. I get that nine out of ten readers look at the cartoons first."

The New Yorker is among the handful of magazines that restricted access to much of its online content to paying readers before it was fashionable. To Remnick, this approach was an obvious response to the danger of not charging for it. "I was damned if I was going to train 18-year-olds, 20-year-olds, 22-year-olds that this is like the water that comes out of the sink -- free," he said.

Although it has recently moved aggressively into development of apps for e-readers and other mobile devices, Conde Nast, which also publishes Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ, among other titles, has historically been more of a foot-dragger when it comes to the web; in 2008, digital revenues made up only 3% of its total. But Remnick defended the company's record there as well. "There was a logic in this lateness. It wasn't just cluelessness," he said. "[W]e avoided the extremely expensive mistakes some other publishers made."

"We had to think very carefully about how to go online," he added. "If that meant being two miles per hour slower than some press critic down the street wanted us to be, so be it."