Apple has started selling subscriptions to content-based apps through its iTunes software.
Users will now be able to get newspapers, magazines, video, music and other subscription services using the same third-party billing service Apple launched with Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only The Daily digital newspaper.
Subscriptions purchased through Apple's own App Store in its various flavours wuill use the same iTunes account billing system which has been in place and has helped fill Apple's coffers to the tune of billions of dollars for the past few years.
Publishers will be able to set the frequency and price of the subscription (weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, bi-yearly or yearly) and the payemnt card attached to the iTunes account will be debited accordingly.
Apple will take a 30 per cent slice of any subscriptions purchased through the App Store, but says that publishers can keep all of the dosh if they sign punters up themselves - as long as they don't undercut the App Store prices.
Apple is so excited about the new offering that it even managed to get Steve Jobs out of his sick bed to give it a plug:
“Our philosophy is simple," he said. "When Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 per cent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 per cent and Apple earns nothing.
"All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app. We believe that this innovative subscription service will provide publishers with a brand new opportunity to expand digital access to their content onto the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone, delighting both new and existing subscribers.”
So publishers can use their own web sites to sell digital subscriptions or even provide free access to existing subscribers. They won't, however, be allowed to provide links within apps which point to sites selling subscriptions - for obvious reasons.
It all adds up to simplified payment system which could go a long way to reviving the fortunes of many traditional publishers if they get the content - and more importantly, the price - right.
Many people will be happy to splurge a couple of bucks a month for a subscription they can cancel without penalty, especially if they only have to click a couple of buttons rather than filling in reams of irritating online forms and buggering about with credit cards.