Apple’s Affiliate Foolishness

Yesterday, Apple sent an email to members of their affiliate program announcing that, as of October 1, they will no longer be paying affiliate fees for App Store purchases. From the email:

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.

I always felt that App Store affiliate revenue was a crucial part of this community’s ecosystem. It gave smaller sites an opportunity to earn a little bit of money while they were growing their audience. This is especially important at stages where traffic isn’t large enough to justify direct ad sales and interest in reader support through services like Patreon would be minuscule.

I never made a ton of money from Apple’s affiliate program, but it’s enough to subsidize a few months of hosting throughout the year. And at times, that little bit of revenue served as an incentive to keep this thing going when I might have otherwise given up.

I think this change is bad for the community and disincentives existing sites from covering applications — you’ve got to go where the money is. And soon, there will be little financial incentive to write about the apps you love. The effort that used to go into app reviews, top ten lists, and the like could shift toward writing about iPhone cases, watch bands, and other accessories for which Amazon affiliate revenue is still present.

If this announcement came alongside changes to the revenue split that Apple shared with developers, it would be an easier pill to swallow. At least then you could make the argument that developers might invest more money toward marketing and it would end up in the hands of independent publishers in exchange for advertising or sponsorship placement. But that isn’t happening.

Instead this feels more like a petty, destructive change with the goal of increasing revenue in the company’s services category. The potential death of thousands of App review sites, discount app notification services, and more so that they can shift investor focus away from falling Mac sales and flat iPad revenue.

I don’t expect this change to have much of an impact on Initial Charge. I’ll continue to write about my favorite apps in my monthly home screen updates and nothing will stop me from linking to stellar, newly released applications. But I don’t know what the future holds for publications that relied on affiliate revenue to pay their writers. They might go away entirely and that really stinks.

What’s worse, though, is Apple’s justification for this change — “With the launch of the new App Store on both iOS and macOS and their increased methods of app discovery…” — as if thousands of independent writers can be replaced by the introduction of recommendations in the App Store’s Today tab. It’s foolishness.

This feels like the kind of decision that has potentially disastrous consequences when you look at it in the long term. Could this result in less enthusiasm for Apple’s platforms because there’s less discussion of great apps and games? That isn’t insignificant. Enthusiasm has been one of the key centerpieces of Apple’s community for decades. And without it, this whole thing that we’ve been reading, talking, and thinking about for the past decade could eventually feel like a hollow version of its former self. All for, what I expect to be, a fraction of a percentage point on the company’s services revenue. Is it really worth it?

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