The relationship between Apple and the publishing industry hasn't been the smoothest one, but the tech giant has taken steps towards publishers lately. For one, it is giving a more prominent place for newspapers and magazines in the upcoming iOS operating system, which was announced on Monday at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. IOS5 will include a feature called Newsstand, which will improve newspaper apps' exposure and present the user's newspaper app subscriptions in one location.
Yesterday, the press caught on the fact that Apple had quietly made changes to its much criticised in-app subscription guidelines. The most significant change related to app pricing. Mac Rumors was one of the first sites to report that Apple has now removed any specifications regarding pricing from the terms, allowing publishers to now set their prices freely. Previously, Apple had required that app subscriptions sold in the App Store had to be the "same price or less" with subscriptions the publisher offered outside the app.
This meant that although publishers were able to sell digital subscriptions outside the App Store, the prices on Apple's platform weren't allowed to be any higher - despite the 30-percent slice Apple takes from all App Store purchases. Although publishers can now choose any price point they like, they aren't allowed to include a link or a button in the app that would take them to an external location where the app could be bought at a lower price.
Nieman Journalism Lab analysed the changes and speculated on how news organisations might respond to them. It argued that it would be unlikely for newspapers to start selling their apps at different prices at different locations, as it would be confusing for the consumer.
According to Journalism.co.uk, it doesn't seem that Apple informed publishers about its intention to change subscription rules. Instead, it took the trade press to find out about the policy change.
Poynter regarded Apple's move as "sending confusing signals". It noted, for example, that at this stage it is still unclear which publications would be included in the Newsstand. To be there, do you need to let Apple handle sales, for example? It also wondered whether only paid publications would be included.
The earlier version of the in-app subscription guidelines, released in February, was the subject of some criticism. One of the main downsides that publishers pointed out was Apple's decision to keep hold of the customer information of subscribers. Yet some big publishers accepted the trade-off to have their app included in the App Store. Some, however, have chosen another route, the latest example being the Financial Times, who released a web app earlier this week.
Perhaps this latest development shows that Apple has listened to publishers' grievances and is making an effort to develop a platform that also benefits news publishers?