Clarity on Apple's E-Reader Rule Runaround. Depressing Clarity!

By  |  Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 11:45 am

John Paczkowski of All Things Digital got Apple to comment on the unexpected rejection of Sony’s Reader e-reading app for the iPhone. Spokesperson Trudy Miller told him:

We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines. 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.

What Miller is saying is that it’s okay for developers of e-reading apps to provide access on the iPhone to e-books bought in the browser or elsewhere–but that they must also make it possible for users to buy those books using iOS’s in-app purchasing feature, which would let folks buy books in the app itself (and would give Apple a 30 percent cut of the profits).

As Paczkowski points out, this is a big change for e-book merchants, and one that might drive them crazy; they’ll now be forced to cut Apple in on book sales. But it’s conceivable, at least, that if they play ball and implement this feature, it’ll be a modest plus for consumers: They’ll be able to buy books without leaving their favorite iPhone e-reading apps.

But…as far as I can tell, Apple’s new requirement doesn’t jibe with its unchanged guidelines. Paczkowski quotes the relevant section:

11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected

11.3 Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected

Sounds like the official rules–which haven’t been enforced until now–ban the browser-based book-buying that e-reading app companies have offered, period. Apple is now saying that browser-based buying is okay as long as in-app buying is also supported, but its guidelines say otherwise.

Furthermore, the guidelines appear to say that if you buy an e-book using in-app buying, you can’t then get access to that book “outside of the application.” Which would mean that an e-book bought on an iPhone might not be usable on a Kindle or a Nook or an Android app. If Apple enforces this rule.

For months, most of the news about the App Store has been good news–involving Apple clarifying (and sometimes relaxing) rules¬† and generally making logical moves to accommodate consumers and developers. If the gist of this latest development is that Apple reserves the right to change long-standing acceptance practices which affect extremely popular apps–and that those practices may be at odds with formal policy–that’s bad news for everyone. Apple included.



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4 Comments For This Post

  1. aaronpressman Says:

    It's not conceivable for Amazon, Sony or others to do this because of agency pricing. The book vendors have to give 70% of the price to the publisher — a price which the publisher sets, by the way — so if they give 30% to Apple, they make zero.

  2. Jane Venti-Tillman Says:


    Would you please comment on the potential restraint of trade issue that Apple is engaging in here in their “company store” approach to software.

    If I buy a Toyota sedan, I don’t have to buy my GPS unit from the Toyota store.

    If I buy a Dell computer, I don’t have to buy my spreadsheet software from Dell’s software store.

    Why is Apple forcing me to go to the Apple store to buy software when I buy their iPad computer?

  3. jeftek Says:

    I guess I don't see how if you can't buy by books on the iPhone, that it means you can't read books from your existing archive?

    Just buy the books on the Web and send them to your iPhone/iPad. The purchase is happening off device, so how can Apple have a say in that?

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