Apple’s App Store Subscription Plans

Apple’s rolled out a new subscriptions platform with their usual penchant for surprise, and apparently it caught a lot of people off-guard. Some are even, shall we say, riled.


  • Apple will provide a subscription and purchase infrastructure, for which it’ll charge 30% per transaction. (This is the least objectionable part of the new platform.)
  • You can’t offer a lower price anywhere else on the web (Alarm bells should be going off about now)
  • You can’t link outside the app (e.g. to your website) in your app to allow “off-app purchases” (Yow!)
  • And the kicker: you have to transition to the new payments process by Summer, or get booted off the App Store. (Apple’s way … or the highway)

The obvious answer to this bit of control-freakery is to create an iOS-specific subscription plan. This way publishers can keep their iOS user base while a) not raising costs for non-iOS users and b) making very clear to iOS users that their choice of gadgetry will cost them not just at purchase time, but almost every time they pay for almost anything. And the reason for that is, well, Apple’s greed1.

Let’s consider Spotify. Note that Spotify already offers a PC-only subscription for £5/month.

  • A Spotify Everywhere will cost £10/month and will not be sold on the iTunes App Store. You will be able to buy it on their website and on other proprietary platforms if allowed. You will not be able to listen to songs on iOS devices using this plan, but you will be able to listen on the PC, Mac, Android, Blackberry, WP7, etc. This is very similar to Spotify’s current £10/month plan, which of course includes iOS devices.
  • A hypothetical “Spotify Everywhere with Apple Devices” plan will cost £13/month (£10 + Apple’s 30% cut) and will be sold on the iTunes App Store and on the Web. With this you can listen to songs on PC, Mac, Android, Blackberry, WP7, etc and iOS devices.

I believe this neatly gets around the requirement that you cannot offer a lower price elsewhere on the web. The implicit assumption here is that the lower price cannot be for a “like” product. A subscription plan that excludes iOS devices is clearly not “like” one that includes iOS devices and therefore could be cheaper.

Of course, if an app developer believes there’s enough sales from the App Store channel to justify it, they can keep their iOS-only subscription plans at the same price level (or even cheaper) than the other plans. The important thing is that content providers will have some say in the matter. Whether they actually do so and increase the number of products they offer (potentially increasing user confusion) is another story.

I’d love to hear comments and reactions to this idea. I’m very aware that increasing the number of available subscription types is a suboptimal solution, and I’d love to find out what, if any, the alternatives are.

Footnote. 1 There is no technical or user-experience reason that a link (a link!) to the content provider’s website is now verboten. As for all the Apple fans blithely commenting that they’d rather trust Apple than content providers; well, that’s sweet of you but others might not agree. For myself, I’d trust the Economist, the Guardian, the Independent et al more than Apple any day of the week.