Spotify and Apple have got quite a beefy history between them. Spotify has accused Apple of being an unfair ecosystem gatekeeper, while Apple says the rules are fair and square for everyone. In 2019, Spotify helped kickstart an investigation against Apple in Europe over alleged anti-competitive tactics, which led to EU regulators ruling in 2021 that Apple indeed chokes rivals to boost its own services (via Reuters). That war was over music streaming, but it has now spilled into the domain of audiobooks, as well.
Just over a month ago, Spotify released over 300,000 audiobook titles right inside the namesake music streaming app. However, buying audiobooks was not a straightforward process, something Spotify claims it was forced to accept because of Apple. When audiobooks first launched, users had to tap on the locked play button for that title. Next, they would receive an email with a link that would allow them to buy a book from Spotify’s audiobooks hub on the web.
The trillionaire company allegedly rejected a UI pathway allowing a direct audiobook purchasing experience in the app. Spotify noted in a press release that the whole process was confusing because Apple keeps changing the App Store rules arbitrarily. Apparently unconvinced about the whole flow, Spotify has now entirely pulled the audiobook buying option from within its app. Following the change, Spotify now redirects users to a web view where they can purchase the book, and then listen to it inside the music streaming app.
An audiobook fistfight that’s all about competition
Defodi Images/Getty Images
Spotify, however, is not bowing to Apple without taking a jab. On the audiobook page for a title, the Spotify app now says “you can’t buy audiobooks in the app. We know, it’s not ideal.” According to a report in The New York Times, Apple initially allowed Spotify to put a button in the app that would allow users to request an email with the purchase link. However, the company later made an about-face, telling Spotify that it can send emails to customers for buying a book, but it can’t integrate a button in the app that would allow an email request with a single tap. On the other hand, Google has allowed Spotify to offer a button in the music streaming app for requesting purchase emails.
At the heart of the skirmish are the App Store rules, which dictate that all in-app purchases must be made using Apple’s own billing system. In doing so, Apple is guaranteed a 30% cut of all transactions, a rule that Spotify has opposed for years. Apple is strictly against alternative payment systems for apps listed on the App Store, and even prohibits developers from offering or advertising any such method in their apps. Interestingly, Apple allows Spotify to let users buy the Premium subscription via a web link, but thinks allowing the same for audiobooks contradicts the rules. Notably, Apple sells audiobooks via its Apple Books app, which is exempt from any such rules.