After thinking about it for a while, I’ve come to the position that perhaps that policy isn’t the right one. So I decided to play the devil’s advocate, and try to argue the case for Apple adjusting their policy. Specifically my argument focuses on Apple’s policy going something like:
Apps may use external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in an app, but only when those purchase mechanisms are undertaken in a web view within the app.
That could probably be further clarified in more simplistic language, but you get the general idea of what I’m proposing. The current policy prohibits any link to purchases or subscriptions that are undertaken through external mechanisms (ie. not IAP); I suggest that this should be allowed. So let’s quickly go through the benefits of the current policy and arguments for relaxing the policy. (more…)
Reuters reports on the Financial Times’ web app’s performances, noting that the HTML5-optimized version of FT.com has now 700,000 users, proving it to be “more popular” than the newspaper’s iOS app. Financial Times made headlines when it couldn’t agree with Apple on iTunes’ subscription rules for publishers — which require companies to give a 30% revenue cut to Apple, and make sharing of subscriber data opt-in. It was previously reported that 50% of iTunes subscribers opted to share their personal information; however, the Financial Times wanted more control over its mobile application, and decided to develop an HTML5 version instead. The iOS app was then pulled from the App Store.
People who are using the app are spending much more time with the content,” he said. “They are consuming about three times as many pages through the app as they are through the desktop in an average visit.”
The FT’s Web-based mobile app accounts for 15 percent of FT.com subscriptions and 20 percent of total FT.com page views from mobile users, Grimshaw said.
After launching the new web app on June 7, the Financial Times reported after three weeks they achieved 200,000 downloads, with 100,000 in the first week alone. In spite of its web app nature, the iOS-optimized FT app recommends users to “add it to their home screens”, requesting access to increased database size for local cache.
Apple has been doing a number of things to address the issues with subscriptions and delivery of content on iOS devices. They first launched iTunes app subscriptions in February, making it easier for users to subscribe to newspapers and magazine with their existing iTunes accounts. Then at WWDC the company announced Newsstand, a new unified virtual shelf on iOS devices for content a user is subscribed to. Adobe has already announced its publishing tools will be updated to take advantage of iOS 5′s Newsstand. The Financial Times is not the only publisher to find an alternative route out of Apple’s App Store, as Amazon released a web-based version of its Kindle reader with direct integration with the Kindle Store.
Both the Financial Times and Amazon couldn’t comply with Apple’s subscription rules, even after Apple slightly modified them to open up to more publishers in June.
The New Yorker Has Sold 20,000 Annual iPad Subscriptions
The New York Times profiles the status of The New Yorker iPad app, which was released in September 2010 but implemented iTunes subscriptions last May. According to The New Yorker, over 75,000 print subscribers have taken advantage of the offer to download the iPad app for free, whilst “several thousands more people” are downloading $4.99 single issues each week.
Offering the first detailed glimpse into iPad magazine sales since subscriptions became available in the spring, The New Yorker said that it now had 100,000 iPad readers, including about 20,000 people who bought subscriptions at $59.99 a year.
In the old in-app purchase model, The New Yorker used to sell single issues-only at $4.99. Since Condè Nast rolled out subscriptions for many of its magazines in May, the publication adopted a new model with subscription to the weekly magazine priced at $5.99 per month (or $1.50 per issue) and full annual iPad access at $59.99. Unlike several other digital versions of magazines ported to the iPad (many of them sold by Condè Nast itself), The New Yorker took a different approach: rather than re-working its information architecture to present articles alongside lots of images, “interactive ads”, video, and infographics, The New Yorker went for the simpler route of presenting readable text on screen. And as The New York Times reports, this strategy seems to have worked really well for them:
The New Yorker, a magazine that has always been heavy on text, took a different tack from its peers. Instead of loading its iPad app with interactive features, the magazine focused on presenting its articles in a clean, readable format.
“That was really important to us: to create an app all about reading,” said Pamela Maffei McCarthy, the magazine’s deputy editor. “There are some bells and whistles, but we’re very careful about that. We think about whether or not they add any value. And if they don’t, out the window they go.
Read the full report — including some remarks from the magazine’s editor David Remnick — here. [via Poynter]
It appears that Apple has finally decided to start forcing apps to abide by its new in-app purchase and subscription rules that became enforceable at the start of this month. It appears that the first big casualties will be the Wall Street Journal and Kobo apps. The Wall Street Journal has reported that their apps will soon remove all purchasing options from their apps and Kobo, the Canadian e-Book retailer, has already done something similar. Both apps had been linking users to their website to purchase subscription content which had been forbidden in Apple’s new rules, as detailed below.
Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchasing content to be used in the app, such as a “buy” button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected.
Neither app has or had been rejected, instead Apple seems to have opted to talk directly with Kobo and News Corporation, as both have or will soon be updating their apps to remove the offending links. Curiously both apps will not be using Apple’s own in-app purchasing system to allow users to purchase content or subscriptions. Both firms still feel as though the terms are too onerous, despite Apple relaxing the restrictions in June to allow content to be sold through the in-app purchasing at a different price. Previously the rules were going to require all subscription content to be available for purchase through the in-app system and at the same or lower price (despite Apple’s required 30% cut).
Kobo’s Mr. Serbinis said to the Wall Street Journal that roughly 50% of their iOS app users already bought content through their website, but that this change “will inconvenience those customers accustomed to buying their books directly from our apps on Apple devices”. Similarly, a News Corp spokeswoman said “We remain concerned that Apple’s own subscription [rules] would create a poor experience for our readers, who would not be able to directly manage their WSJ account or to easily access our content across multiple platforms”. Both companies seem reluctant to offer in-app purchases and cede 30% of revenues to Apple, despite even being allowed to charge customers more if purchasing in this method. It follows other publishers such as The New York Times and various Conde Naste magazines, which have embraced Apple’s in-app subscriptions and purchases.
Jakob Nielsen at UseIt.com offers an interesting breakdown of the issues behind the design of the WSJ iPhone app’s initial login screen, which is causing customers to leave negative iTunes reviews as they think the newspaper is forcing existing subscribers to pay again to read content on the iPhone. That is not true (subscribers of wsj.com can access the app for free), but according to Nielsen a poorly designed login screen that puts the focus on new subscriptions and registrations, rather than login, is tricking users to believe that existing subscriptions don’t count against iPhone access.
Wildly persistent users might notice the much smaller Log In area at the bottom of the startup screen. However, they’re unlikely to press this button because their experience with the app so far has taught them that they must register (and pay extra) before being allowed to log in.
Those few users who do press Log In will finally see that they can use their existing www.wsj.com credentials to access the app. However, as the many negative App Store reviews attest, few users ever make it this far.
The full report with screenshots of the WSJ iPhone app and proposed mockups to address the issue is available here. Subscriptions and logins for existing subscribers have always presented usability problems for developers of mobile newspapers and magazine apps, struggling to find the best way to promote both new subscriptions and free access for existing, paying customers. Apple wants to improve the process with its native subscription system based on iTunes accounts, and indeed several publications are experimenting with the new APIs provided by Apple to offer web-based login screens that allow for new registrations and iTunes subscriptions, like The New York Times did in its latest app update.
The New York Times has today released an update for their iPad and iPhone apps that now enables users to purchase in-app subscriptions for their content that is behind a paywall. There are three subscriptions available for the content, the first is $15 for website plus iPhone access, then $20 for website plus iPad and finally all digital access (website, iPad and iPhone) for $35 – all of which are charged on a monthly basis.
The implementation of Apple’s subscription service comes the day after the rumored deadline that was imposed by Apple. Although that deadline was made somewhat easier for content providers after Apple backed down on certain requirements of the subscription guidelines. Most notably is that they are no longer forced to offer in-app purchases or subscriptions for content and that they can offer the content at a different price to what they offer on their websites.
However, one rule that didn’t change was that if an app offered In-App purchases or subscriptions, they cannot offer users an external link to purchase content from outside the Apple ecosystem. The New York Times seems to have played nice with this rule, but has offered existing subscribers an easy way to gain access to the content for free – as is permitted by Apple. Today’s implementation comes after they first implemented their paywall for the iPad app in April of this year and nearly four months after they first promised that they would implement iOS subscriptions. It also follows the adoption of iOS subscriptions by other publications such as Wired Magazine, The Daily, The Telegraph and Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek.
A few days ago Apple quietly modified its ‘App Store Review Guidelines’, and it has significantly reduced the requirements that apps, which deliver content, must abide by, effectively stepping down on their previous demands. In February this year it was revealed that Apple had imposed a deadline of June 30 for all publishers of iOS Apps that delivered subscription content to implement In-App Subscriptions. The requirements were that any app that sold content outside the App Store must also offer the same content to users through In-App Purchases and at the “same price or less than it is offered outside the App”.
Yet as MacRumors has published today, Apple has amended the App Store Review Guidelines to state as follows:
11.14 Apps can read or play approved content (specifically magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video) that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app, as long as there is no button or external link in the app to purchase the approved content. Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues for approved content that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app
In plain English this means that content providers with an App Store presence are no longer forced to offer In-App purchases or subscriptions for content. But if they do choose to implement IAP or subscriptions they can offer the content at any price they wish – even if it is more than what they charge outside the App Store. The only requirement is that within an app, there cannot be an external link that redirects users to purchase content from outside the app.
It is unknown why Apple has decided to change tack on this issue, but a likely reason is that a number of publishers decided the 30% cut was too much to bear and had put pressure on Apple to redraw the guideline. Just a few days ago The Financial Times released its iPad webapp in order to sidestep the App Store and its overbearing terms. Similarly, earlier this year Time magazine had also ruled out using the subscription service because of the 30% revenue cut and customers ability to opt-out of giving them certain personal details .
Readability, which launched in February, was also set to offer iOS users an app that would tie into the Readability service, but because of the subscription rules they weren’t able to release the app. Similarly iFlowReader complained in mid-May that Apple’s subscription policy had shut them down because the 30% revenue cut would eat into their already small profit margin. The question now is whether these services and magazines will now re-embrace the App Store under these revised terms.
With an update to the Wired app today, it becomes the latest iPad magazine from Conde Nast to utilize Apple’s in-app subscription service after they began implementing it in all their magazine apps earlier this month. Wired now offers users four ways to consume the Wired magazine on the iPad, they can continue to purchase individual issues for $3.99, pay $1.99 for a monthly subscription, $19.99 for a yearly subscription or if they are already a print subscriber, access the app for free.
The subscription offerings will allow users to access the monthly editions until the subscription runs out. Opting to purchase individual issues will mean users get to permanently purchase that issue and re-read it at a later time without a subscription.
Today’s update follows last month’s update that brought enhanced sharing and shopping features to the app, and to celebrate they made the issue available for free. According to Howard Mittman on Twitter, that proved successful because the issue has become the most downloaded, beating the record set by the first iPad edition of Wired, which had over 100,000 downloads.
Publishers whom haven’t yet submitted their magazine or news publication to the App Store fear that consumers will simply opt-out of sharing personal information if given the choice. While only names, email addresses, and zip codes can be gathered by publishers, the possible road block via a simple pop-up notification was enough to scare off the likes of Time, Inc. The New York Times, Conde Nast, and others have given the App Store a shot despite the limitation to easily retrieve customer data, and Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici has confirmed that people aren’t that uncomfortable giving that information away.