European papers protest Apple restriction on 'free' iPad editions

Despite reports that Apple plans to prohibit publishers from offering free iPad editions to print subscribers, it's probably too early to know what effect, if any, a new policy will have on U.S. publishers.

Katie Marsal wrote about the new policy, first noted by a handful of European newspapers, which apparently goes into effect April 1:

"According to a report issued Friday by deVolkskrant, Apple has employed 'stricter rules' for publishers, informing them that they cannot offer free iPad access to paid print subscribers. By offering free access to print subscribers, newspapers could avoid charging for access through the iPad, and can avoid paying Apple a 30 percent cut of all transactions on the App Store."

Three papers in Belgium and the Netherlands published statements about the new policy on Friday, leading to weekend discussion in the U.S. But, as Lauren Indvik writes at Mashable, apparently no U.S. papers have received similar warnings.

According to a report in NRC Handelsblad, the policy may be anti-competitive, and a Dutch member of parliament plans to further examine the issue.

I would caution anyone from drawing conclusions from these early reports. Without a better understanding of the new policy (which is not possible via Google translate) and a clear picture of the specific circumstances, we are simply reading tea leaves.

Yes, Apple is apparently close to revealing the details of its new iTunes subscription service, which may be announced in conjunction with the launch of News Corp.'s The Daily in a few weeks. So, it is likely that Apple intends to update its subscription policies at the same time.

But it is possible that the company intends to apply different policies depending on the subscription services utilized by publishers. Offering tiered levels of service, each with different policy implications, makes some sense based on the mix of strategies U.S. publishers are already pursuing.

And, given that papers such as The Columbus Dispatch and The Oklahoman can already bypass the iTunes store to sell subscriptions and keep the profits, it would be shocking for Apple to completely reverse course at this point.


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