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Tutorials, musings on programming and ePublishing

eBook Sellers & In-App Purchase

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Earlier today, Mark Topham pointed me towards IAP ‘consumables’, a method by which a user could be billed, say, $4.99, but which would still bill them if we put through the transaction again (for a different $4.99 book).

This solves the ‘2.5M into 3500 doesn't go’ problem fairly nicely, but it has a few problems which undermine Apple's altruistic spin on things:

First, some problems for the user:

  • SKUs now refer to price points, not books, so users must still have an Amazon/B&N/Kobo account to keep track of their purchases.j
  • This therefore doesn't keep the user ‘safe’ from us ‘evil’ vendors, since no useful information on their purchases is attached to their Apple accounts.

Some problems for businesses:

  • In-app purchasing is now literally only used for billing a user's credit card (at ten times the market rate). We still need to do everything else that we do, because we can't use IAP to determine whether an item has already been purchased. The onus is on us to ensure that we don't bill the user twice for the same item, etc.
  • If the existing prices don't exactly match Apple's pricing tiers in all territories, we will need to renegotiate with every publisher for new prices in every IAP territory, separately. And we'll need to do it again if Apple alters the territory maps, taking content offline (for everybody) while doing so to avoid breaking either the publishers’ or Apple's rules.

And a problem for both sides:

  • None of Apple's listed prices include sales tax. You only see that when your bill arrives via email a bit later. Kobo, at least, keeps track of this and tells the user before confirming the purchase what the full price will be. When using IAP, we can't accurately determine where you're being billed, so we can't advise you of taxation. We can guess, based on your address, but we've no means of telling if your Apple account is using that address or a different one in another territory (since people move countries all the time these days).

So, at the end, what has been gained, for each of the three parties involved?

The User:

  • Doesn't have to leave the app to make a purchase. Which was only required due to stipulation by Apple. No other benefit that I can see.

The eBook Vendor:

  • None that I can see.

Apple:

  • Gets 30% of their competitors' revenue, along with lots of analytics, again from their competitors.

In Summary

This runs counter to Apple's expressed intent of making things easier for the user. If that were the case, they would offer better catalog support, or would allow vendors to implement their own purchase hooks. As an example, what I'd have implemented for Kobo, based on what their system is actually already capable of handling in-app, would have been a popup confirmation almost identical to the IAP one, with the addition of sales tax information. That doesn't sound user-unfriendly to me. It actually sounds more user-friendly than IAP, right now.

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