Apple eases up on in-app subscriptions and purchases

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Back in February, Apple announced its in-app subscription API, which allowed developers to offer content subscriptions within their apps. At the time, the company also amended its App Store Review Guidelines in such a way that any publisher that offered a subscription or content purchase (such as an e-book) outside of an app had no choice but to adopt the system, or face expulsion from the App Store come June 30. But now the latest version of the review guidelines contain an amendment that indicates Apple has decided to abandon that hard-line approach.

Under section 11 of the App Store Review Guidelines, we’ve confirmed that there’s a new section (hat tip to MacRumors) that allows apps to access and provide content subscribed to or purchased outside of the App Store, with one caveat:

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.

Apple still says apps that link to outside stores, subscriptions or purchasing methods will be rejected, but it’s no longer requiring that publishers offer subscriptions or purchases in-app if they also do so in another venue (like the Amazon Kindle store, for example).

Apple has been steadily winning magazine and newspaper publishers over to its in-app subscription method. But it’s unclear if any of the decisions made by publishers were influenced by the fact that before today, Apple seemed ready to turf them out of the App Store entirely come June 30. Still, magazines seem to be doing well using in-app subscriptions, so Apple may have accomplished what it needed to on that front by demonstrating the value of its subscription system.

Some users had feared that Apple’s ultimatum on this issue would result in the loss of key apps from the App Store, including Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, and could possibly affect relationships with other great content providers like Netflix and Hulu. Thanks to these revised guidelines, it looks like those apps will remain available to iOS users relatively unchanged, though Amazon will have to do something about the link to their web store that they provide in the current Kindle app.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad Apple backed down on this one. It’s probably better off making the App Store such an attractive vector for in-app sales that content providers opt to use it, rather than trying to force the issue and hurting users in the process.

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