Apple’s strict policy of forbidding apps that link to (or even mention1) external stores, subscriptions or purchasable content — developers are required to use Apple’s in-app purchase and subscription service exclusively (forfeiting 30% of each sale) — is beginning to be enforced, at least judging by recent updates to a number of apps. According to the Wall Street Journal, eBook seller Kobo as well as the WSJ itself will no longer sell content directly through their respective apps. Customers for both companies must instead make purchases online (or additionally, in the case of the WSJ, by calling customer service). Says a WSJ spokeswoman quoted in the article says, “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.”
Store buttons were also removed in updates to Amazon’s Kindle app, Barnes & Noble’s NOOK app and the Google Books app. As with Kobo and the WSJ, purchases must instead be made through each company’s website.
As you may recall, BeamItDown Software, makers of the iOS eBook app iFlow Reader, shut down their company and discontinued their app due to the 30% fee. At the time, I wrote that the policy is “bad for developers, bad for competition, and worst of all, bad for users,” due to the fact that it forces companies that can’t afford a 30% fee (which includes all eBook sellers) to shift their pricing strategy, the cost of which is passed on to their customers. The other option, which it seems most companies have chosen, is to only offer purchases from outside their apps, which creates an inferior experience2 in-app and doesn’t encourage users to remain entirely in-app. For all the advantages of native apps, it’s a shame for there to be such an arbitrary and completely preventable disadvantage.
Writing about the removal of the store button in the Kindle app, John Gruber also highlights the policy’s negative impact on users (an argument which applies to any app complying with the policy):
This is the result of Apple putting its own interests ahead of those of its users. It’s certainly not drastic (as it would be if Amazon had pulled the app from the store entirely), but in no way can it be argued that this is an improvement for users.
Apple generally seems to do what’s best for the developers and users that have made its products and app ecosystem so successful, but in this case, especially considering the amount of money Apple is already making, this policy and its strict enforcement just seem selfish, anticompetitive and draconian. And worst of all, bad for users.