Steve Jobs: Subscription Terms Only Apply to Publishing Apps

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Apple’s recently-announced subscription model for apps has caused a bit of a ruckus with publishers. To recap, any content-based iPhone and iPad apps wishing to leverage recurring subscriptions must give Apple a 30% cut of sales that originate from within iTunes or the app itself. Subscriptions can be sold outside the app but pricing must be equal to the in-app price and apps can’t link off to outside web pages in order to take subscriptions.

Per Apple, the rules apply “to all publishers of content-based apps on the App Store, including magazines, newspapers, video, music, etc.” who wish to sell recurring subscriptions to the content they provide.

The question has arisen as to whether or not subscription-based software applications that provide access to services (Software as a Service, or SaaS apps) rather than content would fall under the “etc.” portion of Apple’s plan.

It appears that such apps will live beyond Apple’s reach, based upon what Steve Jobs himself told a developer in a characteristically brief e-mail:

“We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps.”

So it appears that SaaS apps such as DropBox, SalesForce and the like will be permitted to sell subscriptions outside of their respective apps without having to offer the same pricing inside the apps. In fact, based on Jobs’ e-mail, it appears that SaaS apps won’t be able to sell subscriptions that get routed through iTunes’ payment system at all.

A potential gray area presents itself when apps that position themselves as SaaS providers facilitate the transfer of certain types of content to a device.

MacRumors reports that an app called Readability got rejected from the App Store for its $5 per month subscription pricing that “offers the users to view clutter- and ad-free versions of online content for easy reading.” Readability views itself as an SaaS app that provides the service of removing extraneous crud from articles—Apple obviously views it as an app that, though it de-clutters articles, ultimately publishes content.

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