Further from yesterday’s news, the argy-bargy continues with the Sony Reader iPhone app and Apple.

After several posts, updates, claims and counterclaims, tech blogs *Mashable*EngadgetTechCrunch and others are starting to agree on the nub of the issue.

The story so far

So, yesterday the news broke that Sony’s apps had been rejected by the Apple app store. The reason has evolved slightly, but the upshot seems to be hidden in the App Store fine print…

Section 11.2 reads:

Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected.

So, depending on how you read it (and enforce the rules) Apple can argue that ereading apps including Amazon, Kobo, Borders, B&N have technically always been in breach of this rule – they flick buyers out of their apps to their own sites to buy ebooks. So why were they allowed in the App Store in the first place? Who knows, but it looks like Apple are about to get serious about enforcing their in-app purchasing rules.

Whether this is a bad move (I personally think it’s a very bad move, for reason’s I’ll detail later) or not, that’s their perogative. They’re a business, right?

Curiously, today Engadget has the following response from an Apple rep:

“We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines. We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”

So, “we have not changed anything, except that we kinda have”. At least in the enforcement.

So that, at the moment, seems to be the bottom line: ebook vendors have to have an in-app (read: in iTunes) purchasing option, as well as (or instead of) linking out to their own sites to sell ebooks.

So what now?

With Apple’s iBooks offering still struggling, and getting smashed by Amazon on catalogue range (even more so if you live outside the US) and probably sales, on one level it would make commercial sense for Apple to start trying to drive ebook purchases through iTunes. Otherwise others profit from the strength of Apple’s ecosystem, without Apple getting a cut.

But when looking at the “big picture” enforcing this is a ridiculously bad idea for the following reasons:

  1. Apple paints itself as the big, bad corporation, and gets in a fight with everyone. It’s already a PR disaster.
  2. The more they enforce their rules, the more they remind everyone that they are running a very closed ecosystem that can change on a dime, and the more they drive people to Android.
  3. If Apple want to be pernickety, app-makers can too. All Amazon (and co.) have to do is tweak their app so that there is also a semi-hidden in-app book purchasing option that is extremely hard to find. They have offered the option, if you can find it. Of course that takkes resources and Apple can reject an app like that if they want – but then refer #1 and #2 of this list.
  4. This will only accelerate Amazon’s plans for their own Android app store, which can’t be far away from launching. Hey, look, kids! Yet another reason for users to choose the Android platform (and not Apple/iBooks).
  5. As newspapers behind paywalls have seen recently, traffic, content and money love company. If you’ve got less traffic than the other guy, publishers give their new content to the other guy first (they want it seen by and many eyeballs as possible) and you become an afterthought. And advertisers put their money where the traffic is.

Hey – the nature of Apple’s Apps Store is that they can change their rules or enforcement tactics at any time, so this could all blow over very quickly. It needs to, for their sake, because this bloody-minded approach will only tarnish their brand, and give users, publishers and advertisers more reasons to go elsewhere.

Via Jason Davis’ Book Bee blog