Apple have announced a host of changes to its subscription service ahead of its Keynote September 2016 event.

Although few of these seem groundbreaking, they are an indication that the company are taking a keen interest in the changes developers and users need to see in the Store.

Here, we pick through the most significant changes, and what opportunities they present to publishers with their own apps in the Store.

Auto-renewable subscriptions

Those who have fought for every subscription renewal can finally breathe a sigh of relief: auto-renewable subscriptions are now available to every app category. Even better, the revenue share after a year changes, so rather than holding to the traditional 70/30 split, Apple will only take 15% of the renewed subscription.

There are a number of key criteria that need to be met to unlock this particular deal – it excludes free trials and has a 60-day grace period – but in the long term, it will undoubtedly put more money back in the pockets of publishers and provide a more attractive proposition for subscription teams. The Verge have described the updates as ‘the most significant changes to the app store since its launch’.

verge_apple subs

Graph courtesy of The Verge

Alongside the auto-renewable subscription changes comes another update: the ability to offer subscriptions to multiple apps. For publishers, this could provide a vital boost to downloads. Again, there are a number of conditions to be met, but this small change will make managing cross-brand subscriptions much easier for loyal readers. There is also potential to enhance cross-publication subscription sales.

Apple are also working on making subscriptions easier to understand for users. The interface for managing subscriptions in the app store will be clearer, and they ‘can easily move between service levels and choose to upgrade, downgrade, or crossgrade as often as they like’.

Search ads for apps

However, there is another impending development which has gone largely unnoticed but could have potential for publishers. For many years, app developers, brands and publishers have been completely at the mercy of the App Store’s algorithm for determining where their apps come up in searches, often seeing huge initial spikes in downloads followed by periods of stagnation.

Apple have estimated that 65% of all iOS apps are downloaded through search queries and have finally decided to introduce Search Ads for apps in the App Store.

The introduction of ‘promoted apps’ at the top of these searches seems long overdue. The look and feel of the ads will be very similar to Google AdWords, and will follow a basic cost-per-tap/cost-per-install model that most of us are familiar with.

Again, this isn’t a groundbreaking development. But it’s always the barely-perceptible changes that end up making the most difference.

“The changes in fee structure, along with the move to open up categories for subscription models, is a powerful incentive for placing your apps back on the app store” said Eric Siu on Entrepreneur.com, who sees the changes as highly encouraging.

“Placing ads which target potential customers right at the critical moment of interest and decision makes perfect sense.”

It will be no surprise to know that Apple won’t create search profiles, or share any user data with developers. They describe the changes as ‘the most consumer-friendly option of everything developers have been asking for’, whilst still remaining true to their strong stance on privacy.

A revenue lifeline

Of course, this opens up a huge opportunity for Apple to make its 30% revenue share seem more appealing; a margin which has made many hesitate at what is now dubbed the ‘Apple Tax’. But if Search ads prove effective and the promise of the revenue share drops on auto-renewal, Apple could see publishers flocking back in the hopes of re-energising their own digital portfolios.

It remains to be seen how the tech giant will move this forward into Apple News. The app, which launched last autumn has since gained 60 million active monthly users, and support for subscriptions was announced in June. The updates will be rolled out with iOS 10 this month, so it remains to be seen what the uptake and monetary value will be.

Whether this is an attempt by Apple to boost its position in the high-stakes search revenue war, or a genuine response to developer’s requests, it is certainly a long-overdue set of changes. It remains to be seen how Google will respond, and how many media groups will re-inject investment into their apps.


Useful sources:

Try Apple’s Search Ads to Drive New User Signups – Entrepreneur.com
The App Store changed the way we buy software. Can Apple do it again? – The Verge
The App Store will have more than 5 million apps by 2020 – Business Insider

Header image courtesy of AP

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