Apple reverses policies on in-app subscriptions
It turns out that Apple’s new ban on DUI checkpoint apps isn’t the company’s only recent change to its App Store review guidelines: The company has quietly altered its policy on in-app subscriptions, too. As Mac Rumors reports, Apple has formally eliminated its restrictions on in-app subscription pricing.
The updated guidelines should put to rest long-standing confusion and seeming inequality regarding Apple’s in-app subscription policies. When Apple first launched in-app subscriptions back in February, the company’s publicly declared policy stated that “If a publisher chooses to sell a digital subscription separately outside of the app, that same subscription offer must be made available, at the same price or less, to customers who wish to subscribe from within the app.”
Specifically, Section 11.13 of Apple’s App Store review guidelines—which was set to go into effect for all App Store publishers by June 30—formerly read as follows:
Apps can read or play approved content (magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video) that is sold outside of the app, for which Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues, provided that the same content is also offered in the app using IAP at the same price or less than it is offered outside the app. This applies to both purchased content and subscriptions.
Now, that section (which has since been bumped to 11.14) reads rather differently:
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.
With the removal of the language regarding "at the same price or less," it appears that Apple's pricing restrictions have gone the way of Gil Amelio. Notably, however, the company isn’t budging on its rule regarding linking off to digital content sold outside the app. If Apple enforces that rule as written, that may mean some hugely popular apps still need to change; Amazon’s Kindle app, for example, includes a button on its home screen that leads directly to the Kindle Store. The good news for Amazon, however, is that the updated policy also eliminates the requirement that content sold outside the app (like e-books) be offered via in-app purchasing as well. Technical limitations would have made it exceding difficult—if not impossible—for Amazon to add its millions of e-books into Apple's in-app purchasing system.
Over the past few weeks, numerous prominent magazine publishers have finally launched subscriptions for iOS devices: Time, Hearst, Condé Nast, and other publishers now all offer various forms of access to their periodicals on the iPad. (Worth noting: Most of these already-announced subscription implementations already “violated” Apple’s now-removed pricing policy.) And iOS 5 will put a further focus on such subscription content with its introduction of Newsstand.
Apple didn’t respond immediately to Macworld’s request for comment on the apparent subscription policy change.
Updated 6:55 a.m. PT to elaborate on the rule change's implications.