FTC reportedly investigates Apple over music service commissions

Last week we reported (with some commentary) on Spotify’s email to iOS subscribers, which recommended unsubscribing from the music service in iTunes, and re-subscribing directly through Spotify. The workaround would give those users a less expensive subscriptions ($10 instead of $13). Spotify charges more for subscriptions purchased through the iOS app, to cover Apple’s 30% commission on premium purchases within apps in its store.

Now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly examining Apple’s policy, according to Reuters.

Is Apple’s commission policy anti-competitive? It might not seem so on the surface. But in the eyes of Spotify, Rdio (which also recommends avoiding buying a music subscription through iTunes), it could be inherently wrong to take a share of revenue from competitors — now that, since the launch of Apple Music — Spotify and Rdio are in direct combat over music subscribers.

Furthermore, there are aspects of Apple’s policy that might interest regulators — mainly, bans on advertising non-iTunes methods of subscribing, and a ban on providing a link to other subscription paths.

Reuters notes that Google also charges a transaction fee in its Google Play app store for Android, which is a far larger market than Apple’s iOS. But Google reportedly has fewer accompanying restrictions than Apple.

So, while Spotify’s complaint to subscribers seemed petulant to us last week, the FTC’s (alleged) investigation could substantiate it.

Brad Hill