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Readability app rejection adds to subscription debate

Lex Friedman | Feb. 23, 2011
Apple's recently announced subscription model and the attendant terms for in-app purchases have been the subject of much debate in the last few weeks. To the list of critics, add Arc90, whose new Readability iOS app has been rejected from the App Store. In response, the company has published an open letter to Apple, voicing its disagreement with the rules.

FRAMINGHAM, 23 FEBRUARY 2011 - Apple's recently announced subscription model and the attendant terms for in-app purchases have been the subject of much debate in the last few weeks. To the list of critics, add Arc90, whose new Readability iOS app has been rejected from the App Store. In response, the company has published an open letter to Apple, voicing its disagreement with the rules.

The problem's root lies in the the paid subscription model Arc90 announced a few weeks back for its Readability Web service. The idea, aimed at enabling content creators to make money from their readers, is simple: users agree to a monthly fee of their own choosing, and Arc90 gives 70 percent of the proceeds to the publishers whose content users are reading via Readability.

According to the company's open letter, the submitted Readability app violated section 11.2 of the App Store Review Guidelines: "Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected."

Boiled down to its most important parts, Apple's in-app subscription rule is that if developers offer external subscriptions outside their app, they must also offer in-app subscriptions within the app--and the in-app price must be equal to or lower than the external price. Of course, Apple also takes 30 percent of any in-app subscription payment.

With those terms spelled out, Readability's rejection from the App Store couldn't have come as much of a surprise. The Readability Website offers customers a way to purchase subscriptions, but apparently the Readability app, as initially submitted, does not.

Expected or not, Arc90 isn't happy with its rejection:

We're obviously disappointed by this decision, and surprised by the broad language. By including "functionality, or services," it's clear that you [Apple] intend to pursue any subscription-based apps, not merely those of services serving up content.

Whether Arc90 is splitting hairs here may be moot at this point, but it's worth considering whether an app and service whose sole functionality is to provide readers easy access to published content can't be described as "serving up content."

Regardless of whether Readability is a content app or not, it offers only an external way to purchase subscriptions--that's seemingly the crux of its rejection from the App Store.

The open letter continues:

Readability's model is unique in that 70% of our service fees go directly to writers and publishers. If we implemented In App purchasing, your 30% cut drastically undermines a key premise of how Readability works.

 

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