A 30% rate could be acceptable for managing complex applications such as games that requires sophisticated development tools and technical approval; but not for contents-based apps such as newspapers. No one says Apple should have left a backdoor for digital subscriptions open, but the Cupertino guys should probably consider a more flexible approach based on real costs.
Or this from the Nieman Lab's Joshua Benton:
Frankly, I'm a little surprised Google's even taking 10 percent. The transaction costs themselves shouldn't be any higher than what Google Checkout regularly charges, which is 2.9 percent plus 30 cents a transaction (plus volume discounts). Sure, building and maintaining the record-keeping system for subscribers and the tools for distinguishing free/paid content will cost something.
Debates about content monetization tend to focus far too much on questions of entitlement and fairness (it's symptomatic that this is a 'debate' at all). But this is business not ethics, and I'm hard pressed to see why Apple would volunteer to apply cost-plus pricing to something that is far from being a commodity. Presumably, 30% is the price-point that Apple thinks will maximize its profits today. Barring legal or regulatory challenges, the main reason this could change is competitive pressure.
For more on that, consider this bit by Forrester's James McQuivey:
It is on that basis that I declare Apple's 30 percent pricing unfair. How do we know what a fair price is? In an efficient market, fair prices land somewhere close to the cost of delivering services. This happens thanks to competition: As long as there is excess profit in the system, a rational competitor will lower prices to attract more customers until margins are thin enough to survive on but not amply so.
This is slightly confusing. It may be rational for Apple's competitors to push prices down towards marginal costs (thus making things more 'efficient'). But it is less rational for Apple to do so without a competitor forcing it to. The whole point of creating innovative, differentiated products is to avoid getting into this 'efficiency' trap by making the competition irrelevant. You do that by making consumers see you as unique and irreplaceable. Apple has excelled at this.
But this misses the point. The key to Apple's strategy here is not that the iPad is a better product. It is that Apple can avoid competing for publishers' business (and the resulting drop in the rev-share) even if Android is successful and competition for consumers becomes intense. Suppose that in a few years' time Android has a 70% share of the (consumer) tablet market. If a newspaper wants its app to reach the remaining (richer, younger, hipper) segment that uses the iPad (and not Android) it's still Apple's way or the highway. A boycott by newspapers would be unlikely to sway those people away from the iPad.
This is a case of what economists call the "competitive bottlenecks" of "two-sided markets". The abstract to this paper on the subject makes it clear just why newspapers' position is so dire here (my emphasis and adaptation):
When platforms are viewed as [undifferentiated] by [publishers] but [differentiated] by [consumers], we show that "competitive bottlenecks" arise endogenously. In equilibrium, platforms do not compete directly for [publishers], instead choosing to compete indirectly by subsidizing [consumers] to join. [Publishers] are left with none of the gains from trade.
In other words: a platform owner won't go out of its way to be nice to publishers. What it cares about is consumer market share. Vis-à-vis publishers, it is a monopoly gateway to its consumers and can set prices accordingly – no matter how large or small its market share may be.
At least that's the theory. In practice things are more nuanced, but broadly Apple seems to think the theory is right. We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, James' McQuivey's words may serve as consolation:
Perhaps it's healthy that the content industries were able to so quickly see that Apple isn't really a savior for their businesses after all. At least now they can make decisions based on market facts rather than market hopes.