New App Store Rules Rile Users and Publishers

Apple has implemented some new App Store rules that have both users and publishers up in arms. What exactly are these new rules and how do they affect Apple’s standing in the battle for control of the mobile app market? Read on to find out!

Apple’s recent institution of new rules concerning publisher apps in its App Store has not exactly been welcomed with open arms.  Apps are now prohibited from containing links that allow users to purchase content in the form of e-books, magazine subscriptions, and more via external sources such as company websites.  The rule has not only created an inconvenience for app users looking to purchase content, but it has also changed the way in which certain app publishers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Wall Street Journal are doing business through the App Store.

Instead of allowing users to purchase additional content or subscriptions via links to external online stores as before, Apple now requires content to be sold directly through the app itself.  Luckily, the current situation is not as bad as it could have been.  Apple’s new App Store rules first hit the airwaves in February, when the company modified its iOS terms and said it would only allow in-app purchases.  In addition, Apple also said it would prohibit publishers from selling their content for less through external sources.  Apple eventually backed down from its strong stance in June by deciding to allow out-of-app purchases to have lower prices than those available through in-app purchases.

Apple’s move creates a major snag with publishers, since Apple takes a 30 percent cut of any in-app purchases.  Publishers have the option to abide by the rules, or pull their apps from the App Store completely.  So far, their reactions have been mixed.

It’s no surprise that the e-book arena has been affected the most from the new App Store rules.  Amazon’s Kindle for iPad app was recently updated to remove a Kindle Store button that linked users directly to the store so they could purchase Kindle books.  Users wishing to purchase Kindle books via the iPad must now open up the Safari browser, visit the Kindle Store, purchase the e-books, and sync their apps.  They also have the option of purchasing the e-books on an external device and then syncing. 

Barnes & Noble updated its Nook app in a similar fashion to remove a buy link.  The company now urges its users to go to their browsers and visit to purchase e-books.  Lesser-known Kobo has removed its purchase link as well, recommending that users visit through the Safari browser.  Hulu Plus, a provider of video content, also updated its app in accordance with the new rules.

Google’s eBooks app, on the other hand, has disappeared from the App Store completely.  It’s unknown if eBooks’ App Store status is due to the new restrictions, as Google has not made any official statement on the matter.  If you consider the timing of the disappearance, however, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the app was removed to avoid any complications.  Despite its absence from the App Store, a trip to the eBooks website still denotes support for iOS devices.

Online publications are another area where the effects of Apple’s rule changes have been felt.  The most prominent example is The Wall Street Journal.  The publication’s iPad app previously offered a link to its official website that gave users the ability to purchase subscriptions.  The link gave the Journal a way to avoid paying the 30 percent commission to Apple.  Since that is now prohibited, the Wall Street Journal has decided to not provide any in-app purchasing capability for its customers.  According to AppleInsider, officials from the Journal said they would prefer to not concede a 30 percent cut to Apple.  The move not only hurts the publication, but also its customers.  A spokeswoman for the paper said that the new restrictions "would create a poor experience for our readers, who would not be able to directly manage their WSJ account or easily access our content across multiple platforms."  Customers will now have to visit or call customer service to purchase content.

With the strict rules in place, one might expect such content sellers as Amazon and Barnes & Noble to completely remove their apps from the App Store to avoid giving Apple its hefty cut.  Although many may have the desire to do so just to spite Apple, such a move could be costly.  The iOS user base has not gotten any smaller, and it only appears as if it will continue to experience strong growth in the future as the iPhone and iPad grow in popularity.  As such, having an absence on the App Store greatly reduces a content seller’s exposure.  Unless Apple eases up on its rules, publishers will simply have to accept the situation for the time being.  Unfortunately, customers will have to bear the brunt of less convenient methods for purchasing and enjoying content as well.  So, who wins in the end?  You guessed it.  Apple does.

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