It seems Apple is removing iOS and macOS apps from its App Store affiliate program. On 2nd August, 2018 the company’s Affiliate Program Manager sent the following e-mail to the members of its affiliate program:

Thank you for participating in the affiliate program for apps. With the launch of the new App Store on both iOS and macOS and their increased methods of app discovery, we will be removing apps from the affiliate program. Starting on October 1st, 2018, commissions for iOS and Mac apps and in-app content will be removed from the program.  All other content types (music, movies, books, and TV) remain in the affiliate program.

It is also now a news item on the affiliate site.

I would like to quote from The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Part Two:

This has made a lot of people very angry, and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

Bloggers and independent software developers have been really pissed off about this. Let me try to make sense of what it is all about.

Small fish feeding on bigger fish

In Internet speak, an affiliate is someone who promotes some other’s wares (and it’s your job to find out the motive) and gets a small commission. For a good many years now, Apple has had a program in place where an affiliate provides people with links to apps (or music, or books) on the App Store or iTunes Store, and if the it costs something, the affiliate will get their cut. At the time of this writing, the official description is still this:

Movies, TV,  Mac Apps, Mac In-Apps, iBooks, and paid apps earn a 7% commission rate while iOS In-App purchases and iTunes Music earn a 2.5% commission rate.

So if I was to think that Logic Pro X is one hell of a good DAW for Mac computers, I could try and persuade you to buy it from the Mac App Store, and provide you with a link to its entry, with my affiliate identifier as a parameter:

Get Logic Pro X on the Mac App Store

If you follow the link and make a purchase on the Mac App Store within 24 hours, I get a 7% commission of the sale price. Go on, you know you want it, and I want it too.

Logic Pro X is Apple’s flagship DAW, so by enticing you to purchase it I’m a small fish feeding on the giant fish called Apple. But there is an ecosystem of independent software vendors and bloggers who scratch each other’s backs by making recommendations. The vendors want to sell their software, and the bloggers want to get their cut. Whether they just want to push product, or really think some app is great, depends on the situation. The developers can even be affiliates themselves, thereby getting a slightly bigger cut of the sale price of their app than they would normally get from Apple.

However, this ecosystem is not limited to just music apps. It’s the whole App Store for iOS, and the whole Mac App Store. There are over two million apps on the App Store for iPhone and iPad, and on the Mac App Store there are… umm, a lot less. I don’t know what the breakdown is between free, paid, and free with in-app purchases, but there are a lot paid apps, so it’s not all free crap with ads. And now the reward system for recommending those paid apps is going away.

Feels bad man

How much this hurts you depends on what you do and how big you are. Any software developer with active apps on the App Store can do the math and find out how much they lose if their additional commission is taken away, if they even are affiliates. It is much more difficult to calculate how much sales are lost because there will now be less incentive for somebody to promote an app.

If you are a blogger or a site administrator, you are now in trouble if you based your whole business model on affiliate commissions. You would have to compensate with Google Ads or find yet another revenue source. If you are a very small fish like me, the loss of affiliate commissions is negligible, but it could be bigger if I had chosen to make it my business earlier.

Yes, the new App Store on the iOS is better for app discovery than it used to be – if you are already inside the garden. However, if you are outside the garden – you know, on something like the “internet” – you need a way in. I’m stretching the analogy here, but it is like someone has found a good way to enter the garden and charges you a small fee for it. When you put it that way, of course you as the owner of the garden don’t want to pay anyone else for letting someone into your garden—except that it went on for years and it was beneficial to all parties involved.

Covering the story, Mashable had this to say:

Apple’s focus on discovery in its App Store may be a move in the right direction, but it will never make up for the coverage lesser known developers get from third party, independent websites.

That is very probably true, but does it matter to Apple?

Going out fighting

I really feel for all the indies and bloggers who will be profoundly affected by this dork move by Apple. It’s not like a company whose market cap just passed one trillion U.S. dollars couldn’t afford to pay back 7% or 2.5% of the purchase price of an app to those who effectively built a discovery ecosystem for them.

I haven’t made much money as an App Store affiliate, mostly because I have been writing a Finnish-language blog for a small marketplace where most of the potential target audience are broke Windows PC or Android users, and those who have a Mac are either seasoned pros who know all about Logic and iPad music apps anyway, or are newbies who are not hip to the possibilities of iOS music making, and can just about handle GarageBand. (Sorry folks, but based on five years experience that’s about the gist of it.) So I have not been able to take advantage of the economies of scale that an English language, global blog would bring.

However, assuming Apple really sticks to their decision to kill the app affiliate program, I’m going to take full advantage of it in its last months, and do something I should have done years ago—namely, aggressively promote all those iOS (and Mac) music apps available on the App Store (and Mac App Store) that I actively use and enjoy, and milk any commissions available out of the affiliate system. I predict it will not be a lot of money. (I do have a number in mind, but I’m not publishing it.)

Since I’m not expecting much, why am I even doing it? A day of consulting work would bring in at least twice the money compared to affiliate commissions. Consider it a service to the community and the independent developers. As a mobile software developer, I know how much work goes into making an app easy to use and intuitive. And that is just the user interface. For music apps, the underlying audio and MIDI functionality is fiendishly difficult and frankly downright scary. So I have a lot of respect for the developers who did all the awesome synth and effect Audio Units and apps.

Petition away

All in all, if you think of music apps, it’s almost ironic: Apple releases a significant new version the Audio Unit technology, version 3, and finally makes it possible to actually earn money out of plug-ins that work inside a compatible host (like GarageBand for iOS or Steinberg Cubasis), instead of having to produce standalone apps that communicate using Audiobus or Inter-App Audio. Of course you will need to provide a host application that the Audio Unit can piggyback on, but that host could do all sorts of housekeeping for the AU: handling presets, providing new sounds as in-app purchases, monitoring MIDI, and so on.

And just as this new way of distributing Audio Units has taken hold, Apple goes and kills the affiliate system. Yes, the developers can still charge for their AU/app packages, but the incentive for anyone to actually promote them is going away.

In case you wondered, there is a petition you can sign, if you think Apple will reconsider. I don’t think they will, but go ahead if you think it helps.

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