Apple’s Publisher Rules Changes – Wise Strategy, Not an About-face

Monday, June 13, 2011

Judging by media reports, Apple’s (AAPL) App Store just took a hit. Apple was unable to make its publisher (AKA, “digital content provider”) rules stick. Apple was described variously as “relaxing its guidelines,” “retreating,” “reversing,” “backtracking,” “about-facing,” and “caving in” – and that’s just in The Wall Street Journal article (“Apple Retreats in Publisher Fight“).

However…

… this change is a step in the right direction – away from an action reminiscent of old Apple’s “my way or the highway” strategy – when Steve Jobs said (in 1983), “What makes you think a dull PC guy like yourself can appreciate an elegant machine for artists like the Macintosh?” Back then, Apple’s comeuppance came when PC competitors with flexible designs and multiple software vendors rose to dominance, leaving Apple-centric users existing in an ever-shrinking world.

Déjà vu came last October when Steve Jobs made dismissive comments about competitors. Then came this February’s unveiling of the new subscription service with proposed publisher rules having Apple get it all: Best price, subscriber information, payment flow and no publisher website competition. With implementation set for June 30, there were expectations that publishers would balk. My concern was that Apple’s success was resurrecting its old feelings of superiority.

However, this week’s announcement shows that Apple’s strategy is to negotiate from strength. The “retreats” etc. are actually sensible compromises that respond to publishers’ chief issues. This negotiation has given Apple a strong position with many (most?) publishers pleased. Importantly, the subscription service now looks to be a success, providing another source of steady income outside of product sales.

So … we may ignore the reports of Apple caving in. The company appears to have introduced a new service using a wise strategy. Apple’s mistaken 1983 arrogance? That seems to be a lesson well learned.

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