Insight Timer CEO Upset With Apple’s Abrupt Enforcement of App Store Rules

Apple has frustrated another app developer with arbitrary enforcement of its App Store rules, with Insight Timer CEO Christopher Plowman this week taking to LinkedIn and speaking with TechCrunch to complain about a frustrating experience with the ‌App Store‌ review team.

Insight Timer is a meditation app that is subscription based. Customers pay $60 per year to access guided meditations, yoga classes, and other teacher-led courses. In addition to the subscription fee, Insight Timer accepts tips for teachers, which is what is at the heart of the dispute.

In 2022, Insight Timer started allowing app users to provide their teachers with digital donations or tips, and these donations were not initially subject to Apple's 30 percent fee on digital goods per Apple's ‌App Store‌ rules. Apple approved 47 Insight Timer updates that had the tipping functionality, but late last year, Apple's review team decided that these payments weren't considered tips, but digital goods purchases, which subjected them to the ‌App Store‌ in-app purchase fee.

App Store rule 3.2.1 vii says that apps can allow users to give a gift to another individual without using in-app purchase, so long as the gift is an optional choice and 100 percent of the funds go to the receiver of the gift. This was the case with Insight Timer, as it was not taking a cut of tips, but the individual to individual wording is what became murky, as well as an addendum to that rule that says a gift "connected to or associated at any point in time with receiving digital content" requires in-app purchases.

Apple took issue with Insight Timer accepting tips for live events and meditations, deciding that this money was for digital content. Plowman did not agree with Apple's assessment, and spent months negotiating. Apple did agree to allow tip links on teacher profile pages that are not subject to a 30 percent fee, but donations from live events and meditations are not considered tips. Apple's reasoning is that a one-to-one donation is a monetary gift, but a workshop or class with at least two people is digital content that's subject to a commission.

Plowman suggested that the meditation and yoga experiences are no more digital than renting an Airbnb or taking an Uber, and Apple does not collect fees from these kinds of purchases.
Just as homeowners don't pay 30% of their Airbnb income to Apple - imagine the outrage - teachers shouldn't have to pay Apple 30% of their donation income either. Many Insight Timer teachers are doctors, nurses and educators who return home from their day jobs to work in the evenings on Insight Timer for critical supplemental income. They give up their personal time recording audio replies to classroom questions, responding to user reviews, hosting live events, writing music, creating guided meditations and leading discussion groups. There's nothing 'digital' about these experiences no matter how much the definition is contorted. The more teachers work, the more they earn. The correlation is obvious and the term 'digital content' simply does not apply.

Of the $60 subscription fee that customers pay, Apple collects 15 to 30 percent. The remainder is split between Insight Timer and the teachers that participate on the platform, with each getting a 50 percent cut. Insight Timer earned $20 million in subscription revenue in 2023.

Apple required Insight Timer to comply with the ‌App Store‌ rules to submit further app updates, with a February deadline. Insight Timer complied this week, submitting an update that eliminates the tipping feature except on teacher profiles.

Plowman says that while he is frustrated, he believes Apple is willing to listen and that the company can be convinced to change. He asks that people share his story, but in a constructive manner.
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