Apple changes course on in-app subscription policy

The policy shift comes several months after Apple announced that it would take a 30 percent cut of revenue related to a subscription.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

In a surprising move, Apple apparently has decided to change its policy on in-app subscriptions.

"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's new rule reads, according to MacRumors, which first reported on the change. "Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues for approved content that is subscribed to or purchased outside of the app."

That stands in stark contrast to Apple's previous stance on the issue. When it announced app subscriptions in February, the company required content providers that had external subscriptions to also offer the same subscriptions (or better) in their iOS app. Apple said at the time that it would take 30 percent of the revenue generated from subscriptions originating from the apps.

"Our philosophy is simple," Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote in a statement in February. "When Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share. When the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing.

"All we require," Jobs continued at the time, "is that if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app."

Predictably, some media companies have taken issue with the matter. Just last week, for instance, the Financial Times announced that it's developing a Web application rather than a software client to offer its content to readers. Its decision came a few months after reports suggested the Financial Times was negotiating with Apple over a subscription service on iOS-based devices. Those reports claimed the Financial Times was unhappy with Apple's policies at the time.

The Financial Times wasn't alone in balking at Apple's policy. Just a couple days after Apple announced in-app subscriptions, the U.S. Justice Department said it would examine Apple's move to determine if it was violating antitrust laws, though reports said that those investigations were only preliminary.

Though Apple will seemingly play nice with subscription providers, it hasn't necessary given up all of its control. The company also pointed out in its latest update to subscriptions rules that it will not allow app providers to "link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the app, such as a 'buy' button that goes to a Web site to purchase a digital book." Any apps containing such a "mechanism" will be rejected, the company said.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.