Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rumor Mill

I was recently referred by a tweet to this article on Kotaku about a supposed new refund policy that Apple's going to "force" us developers to sign. The short article is intentionally incendiary. It's designed to get us angry.

But, folks, it's just a rumor. Save your energy; don't get mad until and unless you have a reason to be mad. This could have been garbled coming down the grapevine. It could be completely made up, it could be an idea they played with and rejected. We just don't know. The article doesn't give a source; it doesn't even make some vague claim like "somebody who wishes to remain anonymous", or "a reliable source we've heard from before". It just makes a claim with no support. To me, that's not sufficient reason to condemn Apple.

If the rumor is true, we'll know soon enough because we'll be asked to agree to the new agreement. Let me just say this:

Read the damn thing.

Don't just click-through, read it. If you don't understand it, have your lawyer read it.

If the new agreement requires you to reimburse the user 100% on refunds for products you received 70% of the payment for, and there is no limitation on the user's ability to request a refund, then weigh the situation and don't agree if you think it will hurt you in a big picture sense. Although, in the long run, offering refunds will probably increase sales. Some people are hesitant to buy something without the safety blanket of a refund. But while some people do return things, most people don't. That's why Wal-Mart and Best Buy and Target all take refunds pretty much no questions asked, even on products that have been opened and can't be re-sold. For what they lose, they make up in customer loyalty and goodwill. The possibility of a refund may, if implemented fairly, be a very good thing for the App Store, and may allow application prices to start climbing again.

But it's YOUR income, so read the terms, and make the decision that's right for you. If enough developers refuse to agree, they will amend it or give the ability to opt-out or do something. Without developers, there is no App Store, and that's not good for anyone.

But, again, this is all hypothetical, if the terms are what somebody from Kotaku thinks might be the case. If they aren't, then all the anger will have been wasted. Don't be angry, be smart.

Update: Some people are suggesting that this Kotaku article refers not to something coming out soon, but rather something that's already out - section 6.3 of the current store paid agreement that was updated recently. Since I do mostly contract work and writing, I don't have any paid apps in the store and haven't seen that agreement. If I can find a way to get to it, I will give it a read and let you know what I think. As of right now, it would be a moot point because they haven't added a refund policy to the App Store.


VesperDEM said...

I realize that this is just a rumor so far, but if it does come into existence...

Note: I'm not a AppStore developer...Yet. I'm working on it.

Shouldn't Apple be forced to return it's 30% as well? I thought that Apple handled the returns as it were anyway. I have asked for and received a refund for one app so far. The developer suggested it if we were unhappy with the time it was taking them to get their servers up and running smoothly. The app didn't cost much, but for the developer, if they had 10,000 refund requests, that could seriously hurt them or even bankrupt them if they are forced to pay the full 100% and Apple is free and clear.

Have you had to deal with refunds yet?

I keep wondering if developing for the iPhone/iPod touch is such a good idea with all the problems I keep hearing like app rejections (latest was because Polaroid didn't like people using borders around pictures that looked like their film), piracy, etc...

Jeff LaMarche said...

Forced? Like... how? They're not breaking laws if people agree to those terms. I suppose you could argue disparity of contracting power, but do you really want to get in a legal battle with Apple? They have lots of money and very good lawyers.

I don't think they should be forced to do anything, but if the terms do turn out to be patently unfair, then developers should refuse to sign. That's the power we have. We have the content that makes the App Store valuable. They have the infrastructure, which is half the equation, but they need apps. If they create an unfair situation, then the answer is for us not to agree.

But, I'm still skeptical of this rumor. I don't think Apple will do that.

As for whether it's worth developing for the platform, that's a decision you have to make for yourself. As far as a mobile platform goes, it's actually not that bad. It's not as open as Android, but it's much easier and more open than getting applications onto pretty much any other commercial mobile platform other than Android.

When you look at how hard it is to get boxed software on the shelf of a retail store, I can't honestly argue that the situation is anywhere near bad enough to justify leaving the platform. I think it's still a tremendous opportunity, even though it's a more mature market. But that's a decision that each developer has to make for themselves.

Michael said...

Not sure Apple could legally implement this in the European Union...it would be viewed as unfair practice and Apple do not want a £250 million fine a la Microsoft...

but there again I'm no lawyer so who knows.