Ebook apps not leaving iTunes after all

Last week’s story about Yudu and their payment service dredged up some rather interesting details about Apple, ITunes, and the rules that app makers are forced to live with.  I kept waiting for someone to notice but it seems to have slipped by most (edit: but not Mike Cane).

The old rule was that if you sold ebooks outside the app you had to sell them inside the app, too.  Apple lately added a loophole to this rule: don’t sell ebooks outside the app and you won’t have to inside.

I’m sure you know that (for example) the Kindle iOS app uses an ebookstore that’s in a browser, not the app. The app only contains a link to the ebookstore, not the store itself.

As I understand it, if you remove the links leading from the app to the website then the app will be perfectly fine under Apple’s current rules.

Edit: My source pointed out that I neglected to mention a important detail. You can still sync the app with the ebookstore which means you could buy a Kindle ebook on the website and download to your iPad from inside the app. I had assumed everyone would figure that out, but perhaps it’s better to state it.

This is newsworthy because Apple created this loophole only in the last couple months. It marks Apple’s third shift in policy since this started 6 months ago, and this is the rule that will let the ebook apps stay in iTunes.

But don’t take my word for it; go download the bol.com reading app. It was approved on 15 March and it’s missing the link to the Bol.com ebookstore. I’m told they had to remove it in order to get Apple’s approval.

I’m a little surprised that hardly anyone noticed (aside from my source and a Dutch ereader blog). And I really mean it when I say that this was largely unknown; I ran this by a couple app developers and it was new to them.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. fjtorres9 May, 2011

    So, in effect, all Apple really achieved was to remind content providers that app-based access to the iOS user based is conditioned to Apple’s whim and the only safe investment is to treat the iPxxx family as thin-client terminals for remote access instead of as computers.
    This should boost device-independent HTML5 content sales and delivery and begin a migration to cloud-based services to replace the apps that might be proscribed at the drop of a hat.
    As a consumer I welcome such a transition but if I were an Apple stockholder I wouldn’t, since it erodes the value of iOS-specific content delivery and strengthens the hand of competitors.

    Which is to say, the new interpretation weakens iOS as an app platform.
    Not as much as evicting competitors but enough that they’re going to end up worse off than if they’d retained the old loophole.

  2. fjtorres9 May, 2011

    BTW, nice pic of Apple’s new logo, but you’re missing the motto: “Feed me. Or else.”
    Cue up Rick Moranis… 😉

  3. karen wester newton9 May, 2011

    I think this is good news for iPad owners. I love that graphic! Did you make it?

    1. Nate Hoffelder9 May, 2011

      I’m not that good, no.

  4. Mike Cane9 May, 2011

    WTF are you talking about, nobody noticed?!

    That’s exactly what I’ve been saying and said in my post about Yudu too!

    They become read-only sync apps w/o any transactional capabilities, not even a link that goes to Mobile Safari.

    If this IS indeed Apple’s new policy, this would let me buy an iPad. But I’ll be damned if I’ll do it before the deadline.

    1. Nate Hoffelder9 May, 2011

      The event that hardly anyone noticed was the app approval back in March.

      Yudu did signal a change in policy, but taken alone it wasn’t proof. The conclusion that you deducted from that announcement was a likely one, but it wasn’t the only one.

      1. Andrew R.9 May, 2011

        Apple has been quite explicit in it’s one-on-one communications on this point, but, off course, they keep changing the goal posts….

        By @arhom

        1. Mike Cane9 May, 2011

          It still remains to be seen if Amazon, Kobo, B&N, et al, intend to comply. And if any will squawk to the FTC or DoJ.

          1. Joel10 May, 2011

            Yes, it’s odd. None of the big book apps appear to have complied to this condition at all – so what, really, is the point in having it there? The Kindle app has been updated a number of times since Apple introduced this rule, and the link to the Kindle Store is still right there at the top right of the app.

  5. […] Ebook apps not leaving iTunes after all This is newsworthy because Apple created this loophole only in the last couple months. It marks Apple’s third shift in policy since this started 6 months ago, and this is the rule that will let the ebook apps stay in iTunes. […]

  6. Ravi9 May, 2011

    Just remove your bookstore link and all is well? Where’s the Sony Reader app then? Seems like removing their link to the Sony store would be an easy change for them to make.

    1. Nate Hoffelder9 May, 2011

      They may not know that this is an option.

      1. fjtorres9 May, 2011

        Or they may be too busy trying to get PSN back online before XMAS.
        Which is looking prety iffy right now. 😉

      2. Andrew R.9 May, 2011

        Ah, Sony do know, because we discussed it at length during an informal lunch at TOC in New York.

        However, for some technical reason their bookstore is not constructed for being a web page.

        At the time they thought they had been rejected, because they had used an in-app design.

        1. Nate Hoffelder9 May, 2011

          Yeah, the Sony ebookstore was a less than inspired design decision. even the desktop version requires an app, not a web browser.

      3. Andrys9 May, 2011

        It’s the very first option almost everyone in the forums recommended in mid February!

        This was a perfectly clear possible move from the first time their rep explained that IF you sell books from inside the app, pointing to a place outside the app, then you have to give an option inside the app to just buy from within the App from Apple.

        EVERYone knows where Amazon is found, especially Kindle-app users. It was made into a huge problem by ignoring the obvious ‘out’ … people all over in forums said to make it read-only. Really, people know how to get to Amazon.

        Sony has not been ahead of any curve lately as far as effectiveness in selling what is a good product except for their usual problem, price and missing features popular in today’s world.

        1. Nate Hoffelder9 May, 2011

          Except at that time I had also been told that read only was against that rule.

  7. Andrys9 May, 2011

    Apple would have been the big loser if they expanded their subscription policies to ebooks, especially considering the revenue-agreements. It never made sense. The clarification stating the big IF you sold them (outside) from inside the app, then you’d have to include Apple, was made February 15.

    Who would want to be restricted to only the limited selection of iBook store books, not to mention that iBooks can be read only on Apple devices? (And people worry about being tied to Amazon Kindle books which are available w/o need for a Kindle even.)

    People aren’t that dumb, nor is/was Apple.

  8. Tom10 May, 2011

    I’ll continue to say ‘we don’t know…’ until end of June. Then we’ll see what happens with big branded Kindle, Nook, Kobo, not to mention significant apps like Stanza, Bluefire, txtr, iFlowReader, and dozens of others which are much more dependent on the ability to launch the storefront web site from the app, as opposed to just reading what is already in the cloud.

    Note that book samples have a ‘buy this book’ link inside of them. Is Apple going to whine about that? What about an app that lets you search for and purchase an ebook, but not read it? What about a reading app with a link that launches the browser, landing you on a page that lets you install a web app to search for and purchase ebooks?

    1. Tom10 May, 2011

      I see that boekenbol is basically txtr (targeted at Dutch readers), while sister app Soumalainen is Finnish.

      Txtr, for some reason, is not working so well for me this morning & has lost track of my Adobe ID. But it still has its Store link (as does Soumalainen, last updated 3/15), and was very recently updated (4/28).

  9. […] Actually, Hulu are the second company to comply. The first was bol.com, and their reading app was released in back in March. […]

  10. […] has told iFlowReader they need to hand over their lunch money entire profit margin. Now, Nate at The Digital Reader says he’s heard that Amazon and B&N can get around this by cutting out direct store links […]


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