Spotify: Apple Is Ruining Audiobooks With ‘Anticompetitive Behavior’

Tech Industry

Spotify came out swinging against Apple today, detailing all the ways it says Apple forces Spotify to deliver a bad user experience unless the company pays Apple a 30% App Store commission on all sales.

“We want to deliver a super awesome and easy user experience,” Spotify says on a new Time to Play Fair website. “But once again, Apple is standing in the way—
this time, in addition to consumers being hurt, authors and publishers are also being punished.”

At issue is Apple’s stance on purchases made in an app, which Apple wants to be made via its built-in iOS purchasing system — not an app’s or brand’s own e-commerce capability. For that service, Apple wants a 30% share. This is, of course, the same problem Apple faced with Epic, makers of the incredibly popular Fortnite game that is no longer available on the App Store after being banned for allowing purchases that side-stepped Apple purchasing policies.

Spotify doesn’t want to pay the 30% fee, which would make the audiobook business much less profitable, and so it’s currently forced to adopt a convoluted, difficult process for audiobook purchases. In fact, it’s tried three times to redesign the process, the company says, but Apple has rejected the app for breaking App Store guidelines.

Spotify says Apple won’t allow it to do eight things. According to Apple guidelines, Spotify says it:

  1. Can’t sell audiobooks in the Spotify app without using Apple’s in-app purchase methodology
  2. Can’t explain why they can’t sell audiobooks in their app
  3. Can’t explain where or how people can buy the audiobook from Spotify elsewhere
  4. Can’t share a link to send customers to a website to buy the audiobook
  5. Can’t send people an email with purchase information outside of the App Store
  6. Can’t answer questions about an audiobook via an email
  7. Can’t tell customers the cost of the audiobook either in their app or in an email
  8. Can’t give people tips on how to navigate a non-Apple purchase process

That’s a lot of blockages. The most egregious, perhaps, is not allowing Spotify to send an email via its own mail servers to its own customers, a process that doesn’t touch Apple at all. (Apple’s claim here, of course, will be that Spotify acquired their customers’ email address via their iOS app.)

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So far, Apple’s been forced to open up to non-in-app-purchase flows in at least two countries, Korea and the Netherlands. However, the process Apple enabled is much more onerous and still costs developers 27% of the purchase price in the Netherlands, and 26% in South Korea, leaving regulators unsatisfied with Apple’s compliance with local regulations.

“Basically, Apple rules mandate a cumbersome Audiobooks purchasing process that makes it harder for you to find your next favorite author or book,” Spotify says.

The reality is that sooner or later, competition authorities will likely force Apple to open up in-app purchases. In Europe, that’s likely via the new Digital Markets Act, which will likely require significant changes in both the App Store and Google Play:

As I’ve written elsewhere, that probably, but not certainly means changes like this:

  • People would be able to delete pre-installed apps
  • People would be able to side-load apps, or install them just like you might install an app from the internet on a desktop computer
  • Businesses would be able create independent app stores
  • Apps would be able to use third-party payment processing
  • Apps would be able to interoperate with core services around messaging
  • Apps would be able to use hardware features that platforms might have reserved for themselves
  • People would be able to switch AI assistants

The question is: will Apple and Google do this willingly, and thereby maintain some level of public appreciation and developer support, or will they do it slowly, reluctantly, and only as forced by law?

“Apple doesn’t just make the rules,” Spotify says. “They also arbitrarily change them to favor their own services and punish app developers who choose not to implement in-app purchases (IAP). And in this case that means audiobook listeners as well as authors and publishers bear the brunt, too.”

I’ve asked Apple for a comment, and will update this story if the company responds.

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