A group of major U.S. news publishers have joined the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), the advocacy group pushing for increased regulation over app stores and fair treatment for all developers. The publisher trade association now joining CAF is Digital Content Next (DCN), a representative for the AP, The New York Times, NPR, ESPN, Vox, The Washington Post, Meredith, Bloomberg, NBCU, The Financial Times and many others. The organization is now the 50th member for CAF and the first to represent the news and media business in the U.S.
It joins other media organizations who are already CAF members, including the European Publishers Council, News Media Europe, GESTE and Schibsted, as well as CAF founding members like Basecamp, Blix, Blockchain.com, Deezer, Epic Games, Match Group, Prepear, Protonmail, Skydemon, Spotify and Tile, plus a growing number of smaller developers.
DCN's members, combined, reach an audience over 223 million unique visitors and 100% of the U.S. online population, it says. Its publishers provide access to content on a subscription-based model that, according to its statements, Apple "severely impacts" by serving as an intermediary. The organization's argument is that Apple forces publishers to use in-app payments for services like subscriptions. As a result, some publishers need to raise their prices to account for the so-called "Apple tax," or commission, on these purchases.
"DCN is pleased to join the Coalition for App Fairness working to establish a fair and competitive digital landscape," said DCN CEO Jason Kint, in a statement. "The premium publisher members of DCN enjoy trusted, direct relationships with consumers, who don’t expect intermediaries to impose arbitrary fees and rules which limit their ability to consume the news and entertainment they love."
DCN had already spoken out against Apple's business practices following this year's congressional hearings when it was revealed that Apple had, in fact, bent its App Store rules for Amazon in a special arrangement.
The House Judiciary Committee's investigation discovered how Apple had negotiated an agreement with Amazon over its Prime Video App for iOS and Apple TV. In an email dated November 2016 -- before the launch of the Prime Video app for Apple TV in 2017 -- Apple had agreed to take only a 15% revenue share on customers who signed up for the app using Apple's payment mechanisms. At the time, apps had to pay a 30% commission, which dropped to 15% in year two for subscription-based apps. Amazon was getting a reduced commission from day one, however.
Apple had also agreed to waive its normal 15% fee for all existing Prime Video subscribers, and it allowed customers to use other payment systems outside of Apple.
In short, Amazon got a deal that essentially all publishers want for themselves, even as Apple touted that its App Store rules applied evenly to everyone.
DCN had also argued that, in addition to its concerns over some companies getting special deals with Apple, Apple’s fees were pushing publishers away from direct audience revenues, like subscriptions and events. It said Apple was instead pushing them back toward digital ads where they didn’t have to pay a 30% commission on their earnings and have unsavory data and privacy practices which Apple is also trying to champion cleaning up.
After the congressional hearing, Kint wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook, asking him to publicly disclose the terms of Amazon's agreement so anyone meeting the conditions could apply for the same deal with Apple.
In November 2020, Apple responded to outside pressure by reducing fees to 15% for all apps with less than $1 million in revenue through a new program aimed at small businesses. But larger publishers would not qualify for this reduced cut, as their revenues are much higher.
"Having DCN join the Coalition for App Fairness is a landmark moment for our campaign, and their insight into core issues with the App Store that top outlets face will only make our voice stronger," said Sarah Maxwell, spokeswoman for the Coalition for App Fairness, in a statement. "We’re excited to work with them to advocate for App Store policies that are fair, hold Apple accountable, and give consumers freedom of choice," she added.