Apple should clarify iOS subscription policy


Lest you think just Hearst and Time were alone in reaching their own deals with Apple, let's throw . The publisher has already added support for in-app subscriptions to its app, and similar offerings for , , , , , , and are reportedly on the way. All but the weekly Yorker will reportedly be offered for $2 per issue or $20 per year. But and offer a two-year print subscriptions for $30, which their iPad offerings seemingly won't match or beat. You probably won't be surprised to hear that 's that Condé Nast got "a few concessions" from Apple before agreeing to launch iOS subscriptions. Sensing a pattern here?

It seems obvious, given all this evidence, that Apple is treating big publishers differently from other potential providers of App Store subscriptions--perhaps even taking them on a case-by-case basis. (The same may be true for .) Apple, however, hasn't responded to 's inquiries about the details of its negotiations with those publishers, and whether they represent a wholesale policy change.

If Apple really has elected to adjust its subscription rules for certain large publishers, that's not necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, it means that print subscribers of many popular publications can now access those magazines on the iPad, and new customers can, for the first time, subscribe via the iPad to magazines that previously hadn't embraced Apple's tablet. Given Apple's self-appointed App Store gatekeeper stance, the company certainly has ultimate authority on whether it enforces rules separately for apps and publishers.

Where Apple may be misstepping, however, is in the lack of any public comment regarding its clearly evolving policy. If Apple making rule changes across the board, that's good news for publishers, and Apple should make sure that information is available to all interested parties. Right now, we could theoretically be missing out on great apps with worthy content, because developers and publishers believe they'll be beholden to rules that Apple may in fact be abandoning. If, on the other hand, Apple is only enforcing those rules selectively, that's a harder message to deliver, but it's still one the company should stand behind publicly.