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Book apps finally comply with Apple’s subscript rules (or disappear from App Store)

by Phil Hornshaw

After months of speculation about just how Apple would handle various e-book apps in the iTunes App Store and their compliance with its new subscription rules, several popular apps like Kindle and Google Books have either changed how they operate or disappeared.

It seems that Amazon’s Kindle for iPhone app, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and others have all been altered in order to come into compliance with the rules, which banned app developers from allowing users to buy digital content for apps from web stores rather than in-app purchases. According to Tech Crunch’s story on the development, Google Books is gone from the App Store altogether – presumably in limbo until it is overhauled to come into compliance with Apple’s rules.

Apple rolled out the subscription rules way back at the beginning of the year, declaring that apps that sold subscription or digital content for use on those apps – in this case, e-books that can be accessed through the apps but are purchased in places like Amazon.com – had to sell those subscriptions or pieces of content through in-app purchases. Apple takes 30 percent of in-app purchases, so the idea was to limit companies from working around giving Apple its cut of money made through content sold through apps on its platform. Earlier, Apple’s rules were less reasonable, demanding that digital content available for apps anywhere be sold through in-app purchases also, and at an equal or lower rate compared to the prices it was going for in other places.

Apple again flexes its muscles

After those rules touched off some backlash from app developers and even caused some to leave the App Store, Apple changed its mandate to say that, basically, if developers were going to sell content for apps, they couldn’t send users to the web to do it. But the deadline for the enforcement of those rules, June 30, came and went without incident and seemingly without any changes in the apps that should be affected.

Apparently that wasn’t really the case. Kindle, Kobo and Nook have all been updated to come into compliance with the rules, and according to Tech Crunch, users can no longer create accounts for the services within the apps. Other subscription services, such as Spotify (which only just made its way to the U.S.) and Hulu, have also been updated to comply with Apple’s rules and sell their wares through in-app purchases or not through their apps at all.

In the case of e-reader apps, books can still be purchased from web stores on other devices, like personal  computers, and then synced with the apps. Apple hasn’t barred content from coming to apps, it has just restricted the ways it can be sold. But the company has made it clear that app developers must either comply with its rules – and give it its cut – or find some other platform through which to allow users to make use of services. It’s a big flexing of muscle on Apple’s part, and it seems as though most developers have decided they’re better off giving Apple’s 30 percent than jumping ship.

Meanwhile, one wonders if this will affect e-book sales for the various companies that still provide iOS apps, and if covering that 30 percent payment to Apple will get passed on to customers.