Time is running out for Amazon and other e-book sellers to comply with Apple's demands to implement in-app purchases on the App Store by June 30, 2011.
June 30th, 2011 will be remembered as e-Book Judgment Day on Apple's App Store.
Back in February, Apple changed a number of its rules concerning in-app purchases by content providers as well as for e-Book sellers. Essentially, if you provided a method for purchasing content outside of the application, you also had to include a native in-app purchase mechanism as well, so that Apple could get a 30 percent cut on each purchase.
Additionally, Apple has now required under section 11.13 of the App Store developer agreement that "Buy" buttons that spawn external browser sessions in content consumption apps are no longer permitted and will be rejected. This explains of course why SONY never got their eReader application accepted into the App Store, and the companies have been at loggerheads ever since.
The deadline for implementing these changes in subscription apps was set for June 30, 2011.
Earlier this month, Apple seems to have blinked. Newspapers and Magazines which publish apps on the App Store that handle subscription-based content appear to have been given a pass.
The "Buy" button for these subscription content providers is still banned, but the rules have been relaxed for requiring in-app purchases, and Apple will not be getting 30 percent cuts of those external transactions.
That's great for companies like the New York Times, Newsweek or TIME Magazine. That's not so hot for companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, however.
Apparently, the rules still apply to electronic booksellers or any other content seller, such as a Marvel or a DC Comics, which do provide in-app purchasing mechanisms.
As of today, both Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's NOOK applications for iOS still spawn external browser sessions to complete purchases, and do remote syncs of purchased content. This means they are currently non-compliant under Apple's rules.
What are Amazon and Barnes & Noble likely to do? It's hard to say for sure, but they have a number of options. The folks over at PaidContent.org have written a pretty good overview of what the companies could do.
The first of course would be to comply to the letter of the law and implement an in-app purchase option in addition to removing their "Buy" buttons which spawn the browser sessions.
However, my guess is that making this the only way of purchasing e-Books on their apps would be a very difficult or even an impossible pill for these two companies to swallow, with having to give Apple 30 percent on each transaction.
The second would be to make the Kindle and NOOK apps pure "Content Receiver" apps. In other words, they would sync external content purchased on the respective Kindle and NOOK web sites in user initiated browser sessions on the devices or from their PC/Macs, but you couldn't initiate a purchase directly from the app.
The third is a bit more dramatic -- cut the cord, and walk away from the "Walled Garden" of the App Store, and move to the world of HTML5 web standards to deploy their e-book content.
My industry colleague Simon Phipps over at ComputerWorld UK has recently written about the Financial Times, who has gone and done just that -- escaping the "App Trap". They've built a multi-platform web app in HTML5, which runs on any number of device web browsers.
Amazon has been experimenting with this sort of HTML5 technology for a while. The Kindle for the Web app is in beta and is currently used in order to show Kindle book previews on author web sites.
So what happens June 30? Well, I'm betting that at least in Amazon's world, they're going to go "Content Receiver" on the Kindle iOS application and very likely launch Kindle for the Web shortly thereafter, and maybe even exit the iOS ecosystem completely at a future date, especially when their very own Android Tablet arrives, likely sometime in the Fall.
Barnes & Noble? My guess is they haven't developed anything as sophisticated as Kindle for the Web as of yet, and probably will be forced into changing their app to pure "Content Receiver" mode.
What exactly happens on e-Book Judgment Day is anyone's guess. But for companies like Amazon which have a strong business model for selling e-books, the future for providing content to iOS-based customers is clear: The Open Web.
Will Amazon go HTML5 on Judgment Day? Talk Back and Let Me Know.