Apple launches long-awaited subscriptions for App Store

Apple on Tuesday announced subscriptions for the App Store. The feature debuted two weeks ago in News Corp.’s The Daily news magazine; it’s now available to all publishers.

Subscriptions for iOS apps will work much the same way as we’ve already seen with The Daily. Publishers can charge subscriptions on a weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or yearly basis, and customers can sign up via in-app purchases that get automatically billed and renewed on their iTunes accounts. With this method, Apple takes 30 percent of subscription fees.

Publishers are also free to make their subscriptions available outside of their apps, say, via their own Websites and to existing subscribers of a print edition. If customers sign up that way, publishers get to keep 100 percent of their subscription fees. However, publishers are not allowed to provide in-app links to let customers sign up outside their apps, and Apple stipulates that in-app subscription prices remain either the same or less than their counterpart offers.

As we saw with the subscription-related changes Apple made to the iTunes terms of service (TOS) earlier this month, Apple capitulated to publishers’ demands for access to personal information. When purchasing a subscription through the App Store, customers will have the option to give the publisher access to their name, e-mail address, and zip code. Publishers can set their own terms for how they use that information, and they are also free to ask customers for more information as long as a clear choice is provided to opt-out.

Interestingly, Apple’s official subscriptions announcement makes no mention of the rules regarding subscription price increases that we saw in the TOS changes earlier this month. In those new terms, Apple stated that automatic subscription renewals would stop if a publisher raised its price. This rule is likely still in place, however, as there does not appear to be another TOS change to correspond with today’s announcement.

The official release of in-app subscription options for iOS apps could bolster the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch as the digital newsstand of the 21st century—if publishers warm up to the terms. News Corp. was clearly happy to give the new model a try, as The Daily bills at either $1 per week or $40 per year. The app’s free trial period is coming to an end, so users will need to start subscribing if they want to continue receiving content. We’ll have to see how other publishers adopt the new features.

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