The good news for Apple this morning is that European Commission investigators appear to be closing their examination of whether major labels colluded with the company to penalise competitors like Spotify.
The not-so-good news is that this doesn’t mean an end to regulatory scrutiny of Apple Music in Europe, with Apple’s App Store policies next in line for some searching questions.
Recode reported that the first investigation had drawn a blank, citing four sources with knowledge of the outcome. “Investigators examined whether the labels conspired with one another or with Apple on Apple’s new streaming music service in a way that would hurt rivals,” claims its report. “The probe failed to turn up any illegal activity, though the EU will continue to monitor the market.”
All three major labels had been questioned as part of the investigation, focusing on whether Apple had been encouraging them to place new restrictions on the free tiers of Spotify and other rivals as part of their licensing negotiations with those services.
As much as those rivals see Apple’s hand in the shift in freemium-friendliness from, in particular, Universal Music, with no smoking-gun evidence the likelihood of regulatory intervention has receded.
The App Store matter, however, remains firmly on the agenda both in Europe and the US. As we’ve reported before, that discussion focuses on Apple’s 30% cut of all payments made through its App Store, including in-app purchases of subscriptions for streaming music apps.
The arguments here are familiar: Apple Music can be offered for $9.99 a month, but rivals charging that for in-app subscriptions face the prospect either of Apple taking a 30% cut of their revenues; or (as most are doing) of having to raise their monthly price to $12.99 to preserve their margins.
It’s here that we see more likelihood of changes in Apple’s policy. Not the 30% cut, necessarily, but more the restrictions around it – for example, barring app developers (streaming services included) from selling subscriptions directly within their iOS apps, or even from pointing customers to external websites where they can subscribe.
Any drive from companies like Spotify to allow the latter would find encouragement from companies like Amazon, whose Kindle e-books store has fallen foul of the same rule in the past.