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European newspaper publishers slam Apple on subscription sales

Last week, Apple raised the hackles of the content industry by barring a Sony Reader application from the iTunes App Store, and apparently shifting its policy so that all paid content updates to iOS applications have to run through the iTunes App Store—with Apple getting a 30 percent cut on the sales. Now, the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association is slamming the Cupertino company, calling for Apple to enable developers to push content updates to their applications and subscribers “without any restrictive conditions.

Apple has not yet set down formal requirements for how publishers can get content updates to IOS apps through paid subscribers, but in the wake of the company’s action with Sony, many are expecting the Cupertino company to set new rules in place.

The EPNA points out that requiring paid subscriptions to run through the iTunes store will seriously impact the ability of newspapers to publish to subscribers on iOS applications. Such a move would prevent newspapers from offering free digital subscriptions to people who already subscribe to the print editions of a paper—a move that has proven one of the most effective ways to get papers’ subscribers to try out digital editions. The EPNA also notes that if all sales run through iTunes, the papers won’t have direct access to subscribers—or the crucial demographic information that papers rely on to sell ads and keep their doors open.

“The print edition of a newspaper remains the engine room creating an incredible range of news and informative content,” noted ENPA VP Valdo Lehari, in a statement. “In the current environment, new online and mobile business models often operate in combination with the print edition.”

The EPNA argues publishers should be able to to offer their readers a choice of payments systems: if they want to go through iTunes, fine, but they should also be able to subscribe via a paper’s Web site, by subscribing to a print edition, or any other means that seems appropriate. The EPNA also wants publishers to have the option of negotiating price levels for digital subscriptions.

Where Apple’s 30 percent commission on application sales has generally been accepted by the iOS developer community—Apple does have to maintain the iTunes store, review apps, handle purchasing transactions, and more—the possibility of taking a 30 percent slice of content pushed to iOS apps is rubbing many publishers the wrong way. Some industry watchers have suggested that Apple consider dropping its commission for paid content updates to only a few percent, putting it into the same realm as credit card processing fees.

Last week, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. launched The Daily, the first iPad-only newspaper. So far, reaction to The Daily has been mixed: although some think the idea of an iPad-only newspaper has potential, few users so far are pleased with The Daily’s interface or performance.

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