When people speed down highways and sidestreets, they’re often banking on the kindness of the local law enforcement to look the other way, letting the folks driving five to ten miles-per-hour over the limit squeak by. People are thankful for that, in a way, but they also come to expect that sort of leniency everywhere. Small towns that rely on speed traps for revenue won’t be so forgiving of the lead-footed among us, and some folks get mad about that. They have no right, of course; they were speeding, but that doesn’t stop them from being upset.
Enter Apple, who made news once again this morning with their apparent “rejection” of Sony’s Reader app. People were all up in arms about this move earlier (prematurely, if you ask me), and only slightly changed their tone as more details began to emerge. Then, we were treated to this tasty morsel:
“We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines,” Apple spokesperson, Trudy Muller, told The Loop. “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.”
Now it’s getting tasty. Apple is now reeling it in. They created their “walled garden” and, despite all the protests and ballyhoo about the whole kit and kaboodle being “closed,” people absolutely loved to play in it. Everyone wants in on a piece of the iOS pie; now that they’ve bitten, Apple is bringing them in to play by the rules that were so clearly laid down at the outset. Basically, this:
Except now it’s apparently choosing a different way to actually enforce those terms, which makes the report seem accurate after all.
So now we have an interesting predicament. Apple is effectively charging other companies for the content that these other companies’ customers have enjoyed on Apple’s hardware using Apple’s operating system, marketed through Apple’s App Store. Seems almost fair, doesn’t it? It seems as though Sony is more than a little upset about the whole thing, but I think John Gruber has a good take on it:
My guess is that Sony is getting hurt because they were late to the game. Amazon’s Kindle app precedes the existence of Apple’s in-app purchasing API. I thoroughly doubt Apple is going to pull the Kindle (or Nook) app from the App Store, but I’ll bet they’re already in discussions with Amazon (and Barnes & Noble) about how these apps need to change going forward. It’s easier to reject Sony’s app as a first step toward the application of new rules because Sony’s app is brand-new — Apple isn’t taking anything away from users that was previously available to them.
Sour grapes, indeed. But there’s more here, as usual. This could spark a price war in the ongoing struggle between Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and (to a lesser degree) Borders. If Amazon wants to keep its margins, it’s going to have to jack up the prices (still one of the aces that Amazon holds) or end up losing profits to Apple. If Amazon exercises this option, people will undoubtedly be upset because that competitive pricing that Kindle owners are so famous for flaunting will have disappeared. If Amazon does nothing and allows in-app purchasing at the current price points, Apple still gets a cut of each book sold and suddenly has a whole lot more money to throw at publishers to get their books into the iBookstore (if they even want to do that).
Ultimately, theres a lot of interesting stuff that this is beginning to imply in Apple’s future posturing and the continued role publishing will play in hardware sales and long-term sales strategies.