Apple is putting the screws to a handful of European newspapers, no longer allowing them to provide their paid print subscribers with free access to their content through downloads into iPad apps. Whether this is the beginning of a wider crackdown is not yet known.
"Apple verandert de regels terwijl het spel bezig is," Gert Ysebaert of the Belgian media group Corelio told De Tijd. If your Dutch is rusty, know that Ysebaert was expressing a sentiment that has been uttered in many a language: "Apple is changing the rules while the game is in progress."
According to Ysebaert and William De Nolf, director of new media at a second Belgian media group, Roularta, the two reasons that Apple is tightening its control over their provision of digital content to paid subscribers are ones that are also understood worldwide: money and power.
De Nolf told De Tijd that Apple is now demanding that all content subscriptions go through iTunes so that Cupertino can take its traditional 30 per cent cut. Previously, newspapers could simply serve content to subscribers from their own servers.
In addition. Ysebaert is none too happy that his newspaper will lose its direct relationships with its customers. Apple, managing the subscriptions, will control all of those subscribers' data – the newspapers won't have access to their own subscriber lists.
In addition to money and power, Apple may have another reason for tightening up its rules for news services. In what must be the least well-kept secret in publishing, Apple and New Corporation are about to launch a subscription-based iPad news service said to be called The Daily.
Rumors have been swirling that the launch of this efforts was scheduled for January 19 in San Francisco, at an event hosted by both Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch. Yesterday, however, came word that the rollout had been delayed for "weeks, not months."
The delay was ostensibly to allow for more time to tweak the billing and content-pushing technologies that will support the site – but we would not be surprised to discover that Apple also wanted more time to shut down more non-iTunes content distribution systems that are currently being conducted by newspapers – and possibly to toss magazines into the hopper, as well.
So far, no US nor UK newspaper or magazine – that we know of – has had Apple knock on their door to tell them to obey the new content-distribution strictures. But there's no reason to believe that what's going on in Belgium won't spread.
That would be unfortunate. We rather enjoy reading our weekly news from that The Economist on iPad app. ®