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Google will now consider letting your video, music or book app evade its 30 percent cut

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From 30 percent to 15 percent

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google is opening up applications to a new program for developers of media apps that lets them keep more of what they earn — paying a lower 15 percent commission to Google in exchange for supporting certain platforms and features (via 9to5Google).

The Play Media Experience Program is another way to get around the company’s 30 percent service fee, and it’s also an admission that the Google had already been cutting deals with some developers behind the scenes; Google is positioning it as the global expansion of a program that was previously invite-only, though it doesn’t seem to have mentioned it before today.

If that sounds familiar, you might be thinking of how Amazon managed to evade Apple’s App Store tax. Apple, too, explained that it had an “established” program for premium video apps, despite having never mentioned its existence publicly. But Google’s system does have some key differences, like how it also seems to be designed to push developers to better support multiple Google platforms.

While Google tells us it isn’t exactly forcing developers to support Google TV, Wear OS, Android Auto and the like, it’s asking them to support the following features and platforms where it makes sense:

  • Video: Developers for living room-first video services are encouraged to build apps for Android TV, Google TV, and Google Cast, with “cross device playback” and sign-in integrations.
  • Audio: Developers for premium music and audio content via subscriptions are encouraged to build apps for Wear OS, Android Auto, Android TV, and Google Cast.
  • Books: Developers offering premium books, audiobooks, and comics should make tablet and foldable device optimizations, integrate with Entertainment Space, and for audiobook services, build apps for Wear OS and Android Auto.

Google also lists specific eligibility requirements on its site that may disqualify many smaller developers, like requiring over 100,000 monthly active installs, and a good rating in the Play Store. Also, despite what Google told us, it does publicly list some of its platforms as “required integrations,” and Google is ultimately still making the final call on which companies are approved.

It’s not clear whether these apps will be able to skirt Google’s in-app billing system, something Apple’s program allows. Last year, Google set a deadline of September 30th, 2021 for all developers to adopt Google in-app purchases if they sell digital goods. Netflix and Spotify had reportedly already been evading Google’s 30 percent cut by directly accepting credit cards.

Google has mirrored other Apple olive branches to developers as well. The company announced in March that developers’ first $1 million in revenue every year would be eligible for a lower 15 percent commission. Apple offers a similar 15 percent fee arrangement for developers that apply to its App Store Small Business Program. Both companies already reduce their 30 percent cut to 15 percent when it comes to subscription services, as long as any given customer has been subscribed for more than a year.

While all these offers seem good for developers, they also show that things haven’t exactly been equal for a while. Both companies still wield the ultimate power, and if you’re too big to ignore, you may have already gotten a better deal.