Digital Publishing Platforms
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Apple apologizes: WordPress won’t have to monetize its free app after all

Soon after news publishers joined the fight against the Apple tax, WordPress—which powers over 455 million websites, or 35% of all websites in the world—reported that it had been “locked by the App Store”.

WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg said that Apple had cut off the ability to update the iOS app, unless it agreed to add in-app purchases.

This was indeed surprising, give that the WordPress app on iOS doesn’t sell anything. It simply lets users make a website for free.

To be clear, the app doesn’t sell anything, and why would it? It’s an open source project. Apple is requiring the addition of functionality that has no plausible reason to exist.

Ben Thompson, Author/Founder of Stratechery

In spite of the ensuing outrage, Apple initially dug in, insisting that in-app purchases are required whenever apps “allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or your web site.”

Since technically there is a roundabout way for an iOS user to find out that WordPress has paid tiers (buried in support pages, etc.), Mullenweg told The Verge he was not going to fight it, and they would add brand-new in-app purchases for WordPress.com’s paid tiers.

Apple had successfully forced WordPress to monetize its free app — forcing it to sell premium plans and custom domain names seemingly just so that Apple could get its traditional 30 percent cut.

Sean Hollister, Senior News Editor at The Verge

Nevertheless, after continued surprise and outrage, Apple backed off, issuing a rare on-the-record apology, saying that WordPress will no longer have to add in-app purchases.

Here’s Apple’s full statement:

“We believe the issue with the WordPress app has been resolved. Since the developer removed the display of their service payment options from the app, it is now a free stand-alone app and does not have to offer in-app purchases. We have informed the developer and apologize for any confusion that we have caused.”

Although Apple is positioning this as if “the developer” did the right thing and removed the “display of their service payment options from the app,” Mullenweg confirmed that they had not submitted any update that would allow iOS users to purchase premium plans. 

Apple simply seems to have decided that trying to extract its cut from a free app — by forcing in-app purchases — isn’t a hill worth dying on today.

Sean Hollister, Senior News Editor at The Verge

This is an Apple avatar we’re not used to seeing… one that swiftly relents and apologizes. 

Will the company show up in this new avatar for publishers too, and offer an arrangement similar to the one it has with Amazon, where the company takes half of its standard 30% cut?

Publishers have already reached out to the Apple CEO with this question. Now we eagerly await Apple’s (hopefully favorable) response.

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