Apple has officially responded to the European Commission, as the latter weighs up whether to launch an investigation based on Spotify’s anti-competition complaint earlier this year. It’s interesting to see the different takes on Apple’s response from different publications. “Spotify boss Daniel Ek might have some explaining to do,” is how MBW introduced its article on the response, yet The Verge went with “Apple cites irrelevant Spotify subscription stats”.
Markedly different interpretations of the same stats, which themselves are an indication of the data on Spotify’s business that Apple, as a platform owner, has access to. Namely that around 680,000 of Spotify’s 100 million subscribers are paying their monthly fee using iOS in-app purchases – and that Apple only takes a 15% cut of those payments, since all those subscribers have been paying for more than a year. This is because Spotify only used the in-app purchases feature between 2014 and 2016 – people signing up since have paid the company directly.
The MBW take is that Spotify’s claims that its business is being hurt by Apple’s ‘App Store tax’ are bogus, if only 0.5% of its subscribers fall under that system. The Verge take is that these stats are not relevant precisely because Spotify gave up on in-app purchases three years ago: the company’s argument that it was forced to do so has not been rebutted. Casting our eye over the wider spread of media covering this dispute, and it’s clear that despite the natural desire of many journalists to spot a ‘killer blow’ being struck, neither Spotify nor Apple has done that yet.
But why should they have? The question of access to platforms is rife with complexities, which is exactly what we need regulators for. If the EC declines to launch an investigation into Apple, it would certainly be a blow for Spotify, but if it does launch one, it would not necessarily be a defeat for Apple – but rather a recognition that both sides’ arguments merit even-more detailed research before a verdict is delivered. As boring as it may sound to sit on the fence: both Apple and Spotify still have plenty of questions to answer (and pose) to tease out the nuances of this regulatory issue.
Spotify has done the right thing in raising an issue that it feels so strongly about. Apple has understandably defended its platform strategy. Rather than seek that killer blow too early, let’s await the European Commission’s next step.