Apple’s app stores — the middleman of all middlemen — have been the target of a stampede of old media magazines, newspapers, books and comics as the vehicle for sales in the new digital era. But several recent moves make it clear that Apple isn’t in this game as a helping hand for anyone. Or, to put it in a more neutral light, Apple is a PARTNER, not a platform.
The uh-oh feeling started yesterday when it was revealed that Apple had rejected Sony’s e-reader app. This app, like the Kindle, Nook, and other “storefronts”, sent buyers to a website where they could make purchases without incurring Apple’s 30% fee.
But Apple isn’t so keen on this end run. And Apple is STRONG.
“We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines,” Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, said Tuesday. “We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”
The requirement may signal a shift for Apple. The company has made more money selling hardware than music, e-books or apps. If people could have access to more content from more sources on their iPhones and iPads, the thinking went, then they would buy more devices.
The move is also surprising, as Apple has indicated recently that it would be more collaborative, not less, with magazine publishers and other content producers that want more control over how to distribute content on the iPad.
At the same time, Dark Horse suddenly announced their own digital initiative had hit unforeseen setbacks:
This past October at New York Comic Con, Dark Horse announced that we would be developing our own platform for digital comics distribution. We stated we would launch this exciting new initiative in January. However, factors beyond our control have impacted our plans and we are working to address these new developments. We remain committed to deliver on our promise to provide fans with the highest quality experience at a great price; consistent with the standards we have established over the last 25 years.
It doesn’t take a Batman to guess what these “factors” might be. In fact we were probably less surprised than many — Dark Horse’s low $1.49 price point per issue was a good selling point — but Apple doesn’t allow prices that don’t end in .99.
The story is all a bit hard to follow since it involves apps that let you buy things vs apps that takes you somewhere else to buy things. The bottom line is that Apple is now enforcing their existing guideline that says anything you read on one of their apps must also be available in the Apple store. So, if you bought Trashy Novel via the Kindle and then accessed it through the Kindle iPad app, you wouldn’t be able to read it unless it was also offered through an Apple-sanctioned store. This is kinda crappy, Harry McCracken suggests:
Well, that’s pernicious: If e-book sellers can’t let iPhone owners read books they’ve bought elsewhere, the whole idea of “buy once, read anywhere” crumbles. A Kindle app that could only pull up books bought in the App Store would barely qualify as a Kindle app at all. And Amazon might choose to opt out of selling books to iPhone users altogether rather than pay Apple a commission on each tome it sold.
According to Apple’s clarifying statements, Amazon and B&N will both have to change how their books are offered in order to be READABLE on your sexy, sexy iPad.
So what’s next for Dark Horse and others? Apple has a habit of saving face when held up to massive scorn (as in the Ulysses Seen matter) but this time dollars and cents are on the line. While we’re told this hasn’t yet affected the existing comics storefronts on iDevices, it does make reading your pirated, available everywhere pdfs look a lot more attractive.
LongBox’s Rantz Hoseley has long been suspicious of the “App interface” — obviously he has a vested interest as his business is browser- and software-based — but he’s not surprised to see friendly, cool Apple suddenly turn into a greedy landlord, he told us:
As you noted, this isn’t a big shocker, or a surprise to me. Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has watched Apple’s approach to the App Store market for the last 3-4 years. It’s become very obvious that Apple expects everything done THEIR WAY, whether or not it is the best solution for users, content producers, or companies that want to partner with them.
So, what does it mean? It means at the very least, the margins for companies using the Apple channel are going to get worse/lessened. Let’s break it down into potential levels of ‘likely’ to ‘possible’ though.
Likely – As indicated by the missive with Sony, companies such as Amazon, B & N, etc would not be able to re-route users through a webfront store to purchase content. All financial exchanges now have to occur through the Apple store e Commerce solution (and apple of course gets their cut). But there is wording in the Sony news that gets ‘tricky’… This goes far beyond the Ebook world, affecting music, games, video, and yes… Comics. What gets even scarier in terms of the potential consequence (and based on movements that Apple has been making) is the non-zero chance that ALL entertainment content, music, video, eBooks, and again… Comics… Will have to be sold and consumed through Apple’s store and ‘viewer/player’ This flies in the face of every prediction of where entertainment is going and how consumers expect to be able to access and enjoy their content… Even behemoths like Microsoft and Google acknowledge this and make it a key part of their new devices, but Apple seems more determined than ever to maintain their walled garden approach.
That’s not just comics mind you, and it’s not just ‘in the future’. Look at the sales and performance reports for magazines on the iPad over the last 3 months… They make comic sales look good by comparison, and they are suffering the same blows… Not being able to offer subscriptions, not being able to lower their price because of Apple’s cut, a production path that adds a non-trivial amount to each magazine’s ROI
If they DO take the most aggressive approach, I think eventually, it will backfire on them. It isn’t what consumers want, and if it becomes a choice of ‘every device must be apple’ or ‘I can just access my content anytime anywhere’ the latter will win out by the sheer fact that the world is too big, and Apple puts too many restrictions on their content.
Forget my having a vested interest in digital comics for a minute. As a fan and as a creator, watching the future of comics get hammered around because of short term mercenary tactics is heartbreaking.
If Apple’s content control wasn’t enough of a problem, these ongoing attempts to split a penny three ways are going to make publishing a lot harder.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.