It’s been more than a decade since Apple first allowed news publishers (and others) to sell subscriptions in their iPhone or iPad apps. And one complaint has reigned the whole time: It requires your users to register through Apple, not directly to you. That costs the publisher money: 30% full payment for your subscription, month after month, year after year. And the publisher has to pay the cost relationship: restricts the ability to target offers, collect user data, and fine-tune the connection between the reader and the socket.
Apple has heard those complaints and moved around to make their products more appealing — mostly by reducing revenue cuts under certain circumstances. (Most of the credit here goes to video game company Epic, which is fighting a battle against Apple’s App Store policies and international regulators in countries including Japan. Ban and the Netherlands).
But the big step came last fall, when Apple announced that it was letting certain types of iOS apps, including news apps, avoid its in-app billing system entirely. Apple will allow so-called reader apps — “apps that provide one or more of the following types of digital content — magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, or video — as the primary function of the app.” – uses an exciting new technology feature called linkAllows applications to direct users to a publisher’s website to sign up.
Sending a potential subscriber to your site is a loss in ease of use – Apple’s one-click subscriptions are pretty good – but a financially disqualifying gain. You keep what was once Apple’s share of subscriber money and now friend own relationship.
The new policy was announced last September, but it only took effect until March 30, and adoption has been relatively slow. But now, three months later, we have the first big example of a “reading app” promoting a non-Apple subscription: Netflix. Here is the Filipe Espósito for 9to5Mac:
As noted by many users and also confirmed by 9to5Mac, the Netflix app now uses a new iOS API for reader apps that takes the user to an external website before making a subscription. It’s unclear exactly when Netflix will begin rolling out this option to iPhone and iPad users, but based on reports, the rollout now appears to have rolled out worldwide.
When you tap the sign up button, a message says “you are about to leave the app and visit an external website”. The app also notes that the transaction will no longer be Apple’s responsibility and that all subscription management must be done under Netflix’s platform.
Netflix stopped using Apple’s in-app purchases in 2018, not interested in sharing revenue with the phone maker. Signing up for Netflix on an Apple device means accessing netflix.com in a web browser. Now, though, the streamer can at least drive people there within the app.
What does all this mean for news publishers with iPhone and iPad apps?
- Stop offering in-app subscriptions through Apple. The only reason left to give Apple 30% (or 15%) of your subscription revenue is that their in-app subscription system is super easy to use. That’s no longer a valid reason.
- Please consent to link to your own registration interface. Yes, the ability to link to your own site is still not a right – it is favor. You must first apply for “External Link Account Entitlement” by Orwellian vaguely. There are a few requirements, which are not a problem for most news publishers. Most importantly: Publishers may “not offer in-app purchases on iOS or iPadOS while using External Linked Account Benefits”. In other words, you can use Apple’s system or your own – but not both at the same time.
- Make your own mobile check-in system as easy to use as possible. This should be a priority, no matter what Apple is doing! If someone using a smartphone wants to give you money, you should make it as easy as possible! One suggestion: Start accepting Apple Pay on your website. Selling digital goods (like subscriptions) inside iOS apps through Apple Pay has long been a violation of Apple regulations. But on the web, you are free and clear. For iPhone users, Apple Pay is almost as easy a process as signing up in the app, and from a provider’s perspective, it’s almost indistinguishable from paying by credit card.
- Continue testing a variety of subscription services to see what works. The rigid rules in Apple’s app make it difficult for users to test different pitches. (First three months for 99 cents! $50/year for the rest of your life!) Smart publishers are running tests like this regularly to optimize their offers; now they can also be created for app users.
News apps on phones and tablets are not the revolution one would expect a decade ago. Most people who download the Daily Gazette app on iPhone are familiar with the Gazette and its work. They may already be registrants or high-quality candidates to apply. So publishers are more likely to see their mobile apps as a tool to please now available subscribers rather than to attract New things. That may soon change.
Anyhow, any of your subscriptions currently on Apple’s 30% cut no longer have to be. And instead of building a resource-intensive replacement, you can just use whatever system you have available. Save that money and use it as an opportunity to make sure your readers’ path to checkout is as smooth as possible – on any device.