Growing dissatisfaction around Apple’s app subscription terms could strengthen support for platform-independent alternatives, such as Google’s One Pass payments system, practitioners have said.
Apple’s changes to its subscription terms for apps – collecting 30% of revenue from publisher subscriptions, as well making it harder to circumvent sales through iTunes – has drawn condemnation from European publishers, as well as anti-trust scrutiny from the US Department of Justice and the European Commission (nma.co.uk 21 February 2010).
Google, which launched its One Pass just a day after Apple’s announcement, is touting its multi-platform micropayments to publishers system as a more flexible alternative, letting them determine what content to charge for and how much to charge, while supporting a range of business models. Users can buy an article once and read it on any device, buy subscriptions or make one-off payments, Google claims.
A Google spokesman said: “Publishers have been experimenting with models for bringing their businesses online. These include advertising, subscriptions, paywalls, mobile apps (iPad and other tablets) and web-based solutions. We see One Pass as part of this mix.”
With the grip that Apple has over content censorship, margins and customer relationships, alternatives such as optimising for the mobile web and platform-generic apps, as well as multi-platform micropayments systems, are beginning to look more attractive, according to specialists.
Mike Burgess, digital development director at publishing group Seven, which produces Virgin’s iPad-only title Project, said, “The One Pass announcement felt like a statement from Google that publishers don’t have to accept this; there are other ways to monetise and publish content.
“It’s not a well-defined proposition at the moment, but Google has a good point about the management of payments across multiple platforms,” he added. “With newspaper publishers bundling subscriptions across online, mobile and tablet, they don’t want to have three payment systems with three margins. If someone can crack that, then that’ll be really attractive to a media owner.”
According to Metro digital director Jamie Walters, a platform-independent solution that lets publishers explore paid content on all devices will prove increasingly attractive.
“The idea of being platform agnostic is very powerful,” he said. “Publishers don’t want to make apps for each platform. We need to have a strategy that powers each of the experiences across all handsets, then you don’t need to go in via a store.
“A lot of companies are betting on that for the future, but right now you can’t get away from the need to be visible in the app store,” Walters added.” It’s still massively important, but will become less so as people browse the internet on their mobiles more. User behaviour hasn’t quite got there yet, however.”
With a growing number of tablet devices, the cost of developing and maintaining newspaper and magazine apps, which have constantly updated content, will be unsustainable, according to a number of developers in the space.
Richard Stephenson, CEO of digital publishing firm Yudu Media, said development costs of around £100,000 for architecture and coding are common for magazine and newspaper apps. This figure increases with maintenance and the need to update content.
“Even with most development done on iOS, which can be the basis for other platforms, all platforms need to be maintained,” he said. “It’s squaring up to be a substantial overhead, and it’s unsustainable when the ROI isn’t there. There’s definitely more interest in a platform-agnostic solution, but for Apple that’s not going to be viable. The only thing that will work is a cross-platform browser that works online.”
The increasing maturity of the mobile web and the features it supports, together with the introduction of HTML5/CSS3, means creating websites to work across browsers on workstations, tablets and mobiles will become the norm, according to some developers.
One, who preferred to remain anonymous, told new media age, “Whether Google One Pass gains any traction as an alternative route to the monetisation of content remains to be seen, but Apple is damaging its own case and pushing people to look at alternatives. One Pass does look like an attractive option.”