Apple Pushing In-App E-Book Purchase Policy, Alienating Sony

Apple is stepping up enforcement of its in-app purchasing policy for e-books, bringing it into conflict with Sony and, potentially, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Apple is ratcheting up its policy enforcement for e-book apps, stating flatly that app-makers such as Sony and Amazon must offer in-app purchasing through Apple's online storefront if they want to make e-books purchased on other devices available on Apple's mobile devices.

That has the potential to vastly complicate plans by, Barnes & Noble and Sony to sell e-books via their apps for Apple mobile devices. If those companies refuse to offer the ability to purchase e-books via the in-app option-which has the potential to earn Apple up to 30 percent of the sale price-then they could face the possibility of e-books purchased via a Website being unavailable on the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

"We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines," Trudy Muller, a spokesperson for Apple, wrote in a statement posted on Bloomberg and other media outlets Feb. 1. "We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers. . .with in-app purchase."

The New York Times originally reported Feb. 1 that Apple had banned Sony's e-reader app from its App Store, because the app's book sales would have routed through Sony's Reader Store as opposed to Apple's e-books storefront.

Negotiations between Sony and Apple over the issue had apparently stalled. "Unfortunately, with little notice, Apple changed the way it enforces its rules and this will prevent the current version of the Reader for iPhone from being available in the app store," reads a note on Sony's online Reader Store. "We opened a dialog with Apple to see if we can come up with an equitable resolution but reached an impasse at this time."

Amazon and Barnes & Noble, in their bid to seize ever-larger portions of the e-book market, have created e-reader applications for an ever-broadening number of devices, including those running Apple's iOS and Google Android. Given the popularity of Apple's platform, at least one competitor will likely play Apple's in-app game in order to offer full e-books access.

Apple and other e-book sellers could find themselves squeezed by the December launch of Google eBooks, the search-engine giant's library of 3 million e-books available online for both free and purchase. Google's eBooks software allows users to read titles on a variety of devices, including the Sony Reader, Apple iPad and even-at least for those books without digital rights management-the Kindle. In response, Amazon began developing its own Kindle for Web app.