Apple Eases Pricing Rules for Newspaper and Magazine Apps

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Mac Rumors is reporting that Apple has quietly relaxed its controversial guidelines regarding in-app subscription pricing for developers, which most directly affects apps by magazine and newspaper publishers.

Apple’s policy had required in-app subscriptions to be the “same price or less than it is offered outside the app,” which proved problematic for publishers because it ensured that the App Store would have the lowest possible subscription price – putting all the power in the hands of almighty Apple.

Enforcement of these policies was set to go into effect June 30th, until Apple quietly instituted a change that miraculously contains no pricing guidelines at all. Here’s how section 11.13 used to read (emphasis added):

11.13 Apps can read or play approved content (magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video) that is sold outside of the app, for which Apple will not receive any portion of the revenues, provided that the same content is also offered in the app using IAP at the same price or less than it is offered outside the app. This applies to both purchased content and subscriptions.

And here’s how the new copy obtained by Mac Rumors reads (section 11.14, formerly 11.13)

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.

That’s huge news for newspapers and magazines, because now publishers can charge premiums to cover the 30% cut that Apple gets for in-app subscriptions, while offering the outside deals they need to acquire and maintain readership. The New York Times also points out that Apple is notoriously protective of valuable customer data gained when subscriptions are purchased through the App Store.

Apple came under fire when it instituted the new policy back in May, in which indie app developers like iFlow Reader (who penned a searing statement slamming Apple) were forced to close up shop because their business model would fail under the App Store’s pricing demands.

However, it’s important to note that the apps aren’t allowed to lead users to an external webpage where they can get subscriptions for cheaper. But users can sign up for subscriptions outside the app and then use their login credentials for full access once back inside the app.

So far, Apple has approved well over 500,000 apps for its App Store, and is in the midst of a pivotal patent lawsuit with Lodsys, who is targeting indie app makers. This quiet easing of their pricing guidelines could be Apple’s olive branch, showing developers that they’re on their side.

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