Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and The Wall Street Journal have updated their iOS apps so that users can no longer make purchases directly on an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. You can still purchase digital books for the Kobo Reader, Amazon Kindle, or Barnes & Noble NOOK apps from the companies’ web sites or sign up for a digital subscription to the WSJ from the web and then access that content on your iOS device. But the process isn’t quite as convenient as it once was.
That’s kind of sad, because the moves are likely a response to Apple’s efforts to make things simpler for consumers. Apple rolled out its own in-app payment system recently which allows developers to charge for subscriptions or purchases of single items such as eBooks, songs, or movies. When a customer pays, their iTunes account is billed which means that the charge shows up on your phone bill, PayPal account, or whatever payment method you currently use to pay for apps or digital media from iTunes.
It’s probably true that the system would be better for consumers if everyone just used Apple’s system. So why are these companies shutting down in-app purchases instead? Because Apple wants to take a 30% cut of revenue from sales using its system, just as it does for apps purchased from the App Store.
If Apple had offered in-app payments since day one, this might not be that big a deal. But companies have been offering their own content stores and subscription tools for years because Apple didn’t offer its own. Those companies got to keep 100% of any revenue from sales made through those systems, and they’re not particularly keen to start giving up 30% now, and I can’t say I blame them.
The Wall Street Journal also complains that Apple’s rules would make it more difficult for readers to “manage their WSJ account” or read on multiple platforms — although I can imagine a few dozen ways the paper could make that work. Ultimately I think it comes down two two things.
The first is money. Both sides want it. The second is that Apple wants to think of its customers as iOS users first and foremost, while the Wall Street Journal or other content publishers would like to think that readers are their customers first, and they just happen to have an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. So both sides are claiming that they just have the customers’ ease of use at heart. And they’re both probably right. But mostly it’s about money.
It’s likely that we’ll see more companies taking similar steps soon — either removing in-app purchases, signing up for Apple’s new payment system, or exiting the App Store altogether. The Google Books app for iOS, for instance, disappeared from the App Store a few days ago.
Update: Google Books is back in the App Store… without a link to purchase books from Google’s bookstore.