PSA | You Might Soon Be Hit with ‘Automatic’ App Subscription Price Increases

You’ll want to start paying more attention to your monthly bill.
Disney Plus in app subscriptoin price increase Credit: Max Seelemann / Twitter
Text Size
- +

Toggle Dark Mode

One of the best things about Apple’s in-app subscription payments may soon be going away. A new report reveals that Apple is looking at ways to let developers automatically increase subscription prices for users.

According to Sarah Perez over at TechCrunch, developers may soon be required only to notify their customers of a price increase rather than asking them to agree to a new pricing tier.

Usually, when a developer wants to raise the price of a recurring in-app subscription, customers must agree to the new, higher price. This is generally done via a pop-up in the app that asks them to tap an “Agree” button; if they fail to do this, the subscription is automatically canceled instead.

However, it appears that some apps have already been skirting these rules. For instance, as TechCrunch reports, some developers noticed that Disney+ somehow got away with only informing users of its recent price increase before automatically opting them in.

This seemingly sneaky change was highlighted by developer Max Seelemann, who shared a screenshot of the in-app notification he received when Disney+ increased the price of his subscription.

Seelemann, whose Ulysses app also operates on a subscription model, naturally wanted to know if Disney is getting a special exemption here or if Apple is changing the rules for everyone.

Others weighed in on Seelemann’s Twitter post, adding that they discovered similar behavior with Hulu, another Disney property while pointing out that Apple’s rules still require that price increases require opt-in.

Although the official App Store Review Guidelines don’t mention price increases specifically, Apple does talk about requiring consent for price increases on its page on auto-renewable subscriptions:

Price increase consent. When you increase the price of a subscription and Apple asks affected subscribers to agree to the new price, you can keep track of their consent status before the change takes effect. Before displaying the price increase sheet to affected users, you might show an in-app message that explains the benefits of the subscription and how the price increase improves the service. If someone doesn’t respond to the increase, their subscription expires at the end of their current billing cycle.”

Apple explains that subscribers “must agree to the increase” and that it is Apple — not the developer — that controls how price increases are communicated.

“When you increase the price of a subscription, Apple informs affected subscribers via email and push notification and asks them to agree to the new price. On iOS 13.4 and iPadOS 13.4 and later, affected subscribers are also notified through a price consent sheet that automatically displays in your app.”

Some developers suggested that perhaps this was just a “shady” opt-in screen, using an “OK” button instead of an “Agree” prompt. However, that seemed unlikely since developers don’t appear to have that much control over how Apple displays the message. Further, Seelemann shared an email from Apple that suggested that this was, in fact, an “opt-out” rather than the usual “opt-in” behavior.

This prompted Perez to do a bit more digging. With the help of another developer, David Barnard, TechCrunch discovered that what Disney is doing is not something that’s available to ordinary developers. When Barnard and a friend tried to raise subscription prices in a test app, users were still presented with a screen with a button clearly labeled “Agree to New Price,” not merely “OK.”

Other developers couldn’t find a way to automatically opt users in to the price changes, which, as Perez said, “appeared to be proof that Disney+ had a special agreement with Apple to operate differently when it came to price increases.”

So, the folks at TechCrunch reached out to Apple to find out exactly what’s going on here, and it turns out that what Disney is doing could soon become the norm for all developers.

According to an Apple spokesperson, Disney is part of a pilot test group for “an upcoming enhancement” that obviously includes the ability to opt users in to subscription pricing increases automatically.

We are piloting a new commerce feature we plan to launch very soon. The pilot includes developers across various app categories, organization sizes, and regions to help test an upcoming enhancement that we believe will be great for both developers and users, and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks.Apple spokesperson

Not surprisingly, Apple declined to offer any more details, so the new subscription pricing policy may only be part of a more extensive set of changes that are in the works.

It’s also not clear if this change will apply to all developers or only to those that offer certain types of subscriptions. Apple has already carved out “Reader” apps as a privileged category, allowing Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, Disney+, and others to avoid using in-app subscriptions. These apps will also soon be able to link potential customers out to their website to sign up for a subscription outside of the App Store.

It’s not hard to imagine that this new policy could be related since most apps in the “Reader” category already offer other subscription methods that don’t require subscribers to opt in to price increases. For instance, those folks who signed up for Disney+ directly rather than through the Disney+ app didn’t have to agree to price increases; they just happened.

Still, the ability to avoid being blindsided by higher prices has been one of several reasons why Apple’s App Store payment system is good for consumers. Thanks to Apple’s Video Partner Program with streaming providers like Disney+, it’s also possible to sign up through the Disney+ app for the same price. This means you can get the advantages of centralized subscription management and price protection without paying extra.

Unfortunately, this change means you’ll want to start paying more attention to subscription price increases, as they could soon begin happening automatically. Although you’ll almost certainly still get notified — and the notification shared by Seelemann looks pretty hard to miss — it’s still a lot easier to absent-mindedly hit an “OK” button than one that’s explicitly labeled “Agree to Price Increase.”

Social Sharing