The Apple Vs Google Digital Comics Showdown

Lost amidst all the recent statement-issuing and clarifications over the New York Times’ piece on Apple’s App Store guidelines and what they mean for the future of ebooks (and by implication, comics) was what this all might also mean for multi-platform access. Wednesday, Marvel’s announcement of the launch of their Google Chrome App muddied the waters on this issue considerably.

The gist of the Apple guidelines in question — which by all accounts Apple may be about to enforce with renewed vigor — states that any content available in the app through other means must also be available from within the app with an in-app purchase.

Techcrunch, which is sort of that industry’s version of Bleeding Cool, breaks it down like this:

Now an Apple spokesperson has given us this statement:

“We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines. We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.”

At first glance it looks like the NYT article was simply mistaken — Apple is saying that its terms and guidelines are the same. Except now it’s apparently choosing a different way to actually enforce those terms, which makes the report seem accurate after all.

Now, Amazon’s Kindle app doesn’t conduct its purchases through the app itself — users are instead kicked off to a browser where they actually buy their books, and that content is then synced to the Kindle app. Apple’s rule is worded vaguely enough that it can claim this workaround is in violation of the guidelines. But it obviously hasn’t been enforced like this before now, so the notion that nothing has changed is clearly false.

What the new interpretation of the guidelines might mean for comics remains unclear. If content is available elsewhere but not via the app, can it then be synched to the app? For example, web-based purchases then synched to an app have been viewed as one way around Apple content approval issues. As the Techcrunch piece states regarding Amazon, such situations are a bit of a gray area depending on how Apple decides to play it.

But maybe another piece of this puzzle just dropped. Marvel has announced that they have developed a web app for Google’s Chrome browser, through which Marvel comics can be purchased and read. However, the announcement included the following tidbit:

Readers can purchase single issues from the Chrome store that are readable on PC or Mac. “Purchases made on the Marvel Comics app on iTunes will be accessible via the Chrome store at no extra cost to users, though purchases made through the Chrome store may only be viewed through the Marvel Comics app on Chrome,” the company said.

Based on that, and keeping in mind Apple’s new interpretation of their guidelines, the picture for the future of multi-platform access  just got a bit less clear.