Spotify Accuses Apple of Using App Store Approval Process as a 'Weapon to Harm Competitors'
Spotify and Apple are embroiled in a major dispute, which Spotify is today taking to the court of public opinion. Spotify submitted a new version of its app to the App Store, following a decision to eliminate the option to purchase a subscription through Apple, and Apple has rejected the update.
In response, Spotify wrote a letter to Apple's legal team on June 26, portions of which have been shared by Recode. Spotify's letter, which it shared yesterday with Congressional staff in Washington, D.C., accuses Apple of causing "grave harm" to Spotify by rejecting the app update.
The details on the rejection are somewhat murky, but Spotify claims Apple denied the app update and demanded Spotify use Apple's billing system if it "wants to use the app to acquire new customers and sell subscriptions." Spotify was using its iOS app to highlight a promotion offering new Spotify customers three months of service for $0.99, something Apple didn't like.
Apple reportedly forced Spotify to stop advertising the promotion in the iOS app or face the removal of the app from the App Store. Spotify stopped the advertisements, but also decided to stop offering App Store subscription options, a move that's led to the current disagreement between the two companies.
"This latest episode raises serious concerns under both US and EU competition law," Gutierrez wrote. "It continues a troubling pattern of behavior by Apple to exclude and diminish the competitiveness of Spotify on iOS and as a rival to Apple Music, particularly when seen against the backdrop of Apple's previous anticompetitive conduct aimed at Spotify...we cannot stand by as Apple uses the App Store approval process as a weapon to harm competitors."
At issue is the 30 percent cut that Apple takes from App Store subscriptions, which has caused Spotify to charge $12.99 for subscriptions purchased through the App Store, a $3 premium over subscriptions purchased on the web and $3 more than the price of Apple Music. Apple does not force apps to use its billing system, but it also does not allow apps to offer other purchase options. As stated in the App Store guidelines:
Apps may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than IAP. [...]
Auto-renewing subscriptions should only be offered using in-app purchase and may only be used for periodicals (e.g. newspapers, magazines), business apps (e.g. enterprise, productivity, professional creative, cloud storage), media apps (e.g. video, audio, voice, photo sharing), and other approved services (e.g. dating, dieting, weather).
Apple in the past had a battle with Amazon and other book sellers over its App Store rules, which resulted in Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo removing an in-app book store purchase options from their apps. Apple has never relented on the issue, even years later.
Apple recently announced plans to tweak its subscription policies to take a smaller 15 percent cut from subscribers who stay subscribed to a service for more than one year, but Spotify says those changes don't "get to the core of the problem."
Though Apple has rejected Spotify's update, options to purchase Spotify subscriptions in the Spotify app for iOS devices have been gone since the end of May, removed via a backend update. At the current time, it is not possible to purchase a subscription through the Spotify app, and the Spotify app is not able to direct customers to purchase a subscription on the web.