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Apple's publishing tax provokes Poirot

Belgium sniffs antitrust trouble with subscription tax

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Apple's desire to capture a slice of publishers' subscription revenues has prompted concern from the authorities.

Since last year, when a reader downloads a magazine or newspaper app they can operate their own subscriptions from within the app. This makes the subscription a private transaction between publisher and reader. But because it's taking place on an iThingy, Apple wants a cut.

Apple wrote to European publishers earlier this month outlawing the private exchange. From March, said Apple, subscriptions must use Apple's own billing mechanism - with a 30 per cent tithe payable to Cupertino.

That's one of the benefits of "owning" the platform - but is it fair?

Belgium competition minister Vincent van Quickborne doesn't think so, and has launched a "rapid" competition investigation into the issue. Since Apple fails to hold a monopoly share of the digital reader market (Kindles and other e-readers are growing faster than iPhones) it might be hard to make that one stick.

But the publishers have only themselves to blame - by failing to develop a common industry "news stand" payment platform. This would have made paying for stuff much easier, and lowered transaction costs for all concerned.

And this is exactly why News Corp's Project Alesia was created - with the intention of licensing it to all comers on equitable terms. But the print industry didn't have the brains to join in. The 100-man project was dismantled last autumn.

As a result publishers now have a choice of getting reamed by Apple, reamed by Amazon or (perhaps) getting reamed by Google. ®

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