In Apple's new App Store Review Guidelines out this week, it appears the company has backtracked on its earlier plans to strictly enforce how mobile application publishers can sell subscriptions. In the earlier set of guidelines released February, Apple required any applications selling content through subscriptions to also make that same content available within the app at the same price or less.
Now, the guidelines state that app publishers can offer access to content purchased outside the app, with no requirement to offer the subscription through Apple's store.
The only restriction with the new rule is that the app can't have a "buy" button linking to the outside subscription offer. That makes it more difficult for publishers hoping to skirt around Apple's rules, but not impossible. However, for those determined not to give Apple its 30% cut on all in-app subscription payments, it at least allows for an alternative way to do business.
The problem with the former requirements, according to many publishers, is that the 30% revenue cut was too steep, and greatly impacted their bottom line. For example, The Financial Times dropped its iOS application this week in favor of a Web application, in order to manage its own subscription price plans as it saw fit. The iOS app may be available for an interim period, the newspaper said, while it transitions subscribers to the online edition.
The wording of Apple's new guidelines, first spotted by Apple-tracking blog Macrumors, read as follows:
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.
Another interpretation of these rules is that they allow publishers to price their in-app subscriptions higher than those sold outside the App Store, in order to recoup Apple's 30% take. That would allow the publishers to reach both market segments: the price-conscious users who would don't mind a few extra steps in order to get a better deal and those who are willing to pay the higher price for the added convenience of instant gratification.