Apple Changes Rules Surrounding In-App Purchase Subscription Price Increases


Currently, when an auto-renewable subscription price is increased, subscribers must opt in before the price increase is applied. The subscription doesn’t renew at the next billing period for subscribers who didn’t opt in to the new price. This has led to some services being unintentionally interrupted for users and they must take steps to resubscribe within the app, from Settings on iPhone and iPad, or in the App Store on Mac.

With this update, under certain specific conditions and with advance user notice, developers may also offer an auto-renewable subscription price increase, without the user needing to take action and without interrupting the service. The specific conditions for this feature are that the price increase doesn’t occur more than once per year, doesn’t exceed US$5 and 50% of the subscription price, or US$50 and 50% for an annual subscription price, and is permissible by local law. In these situations, Apple always notifies users of an increase in advance, including via email, push notification, and a message within the app.

As the App Store (is forced to) relax rules around alternative payment systems, In-App Purchase is more sensitive to competition and has to do more to compete. Long term, this will be positive for customers with lower prices and better features across the board. In the short term, those same competition forces mean that Apple will have to pull back on some of the customer-friendly In-App Purchase policies to align with the market, to keep publishers onboard.

As evidenced in discovery of the Apple vs Epic trial, the churn from ‘ungrandfathering’ price increases was one factor that led Netflix to exit In-App Purchase in 2018.

The prior policy that meant a subscription’s price could not be increased without explicit user consent was incredibly favourable to the customer, but out of whack with general customer expectations. The vast majority of subscriptions in the world do not work that way. In-App Purchase was a stark outlier. It stood in contrast to even Apple’s own subscriptions like iCloud or Apple One; they increase their price freely with notification, but without consent.

So, now, In-App Purchase will work the same way. I don’t think it’s something to get too mad at Apple about. It’s the reality of business; you have to balance developer and customer interests. In this instance, Apple has still enforced appropriate price caps to stop abuse of the system. And In-App Purchase remains highly customer favourable overall, with how easy each subscription is to cancel.