Steve speaks: Step back from that ledge my friend

Talk about burying the lede.

One has to get nearly to the end of this post on to read what could save face for Apple and could wipe out millions in fees for an army of lawyers. While you have to remember the source of what I’m about to repeat has the word “rumors” in its name, and the attribution for what I’m about to repeat is given to “a reader of MacRumors,” the money quote (literally) is this supposed email from Steve Jobs in reply to a worried iPad/iPhone app developer who presents a hypothetical situation in which the recently-announced subscription plan could be interpreted in a way as to apply to a broad swath of apps:

“We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps.”

As Steve does such proclamations by email, it would not be without precedent for that to be the way much angst in the developer community could be handled by Apple in the wide-ranging controversy that has met the Apple iOS subscription announcement.

That said, I’ll believe it only after the Apple PR machine doesn’t deny it came from Steve. (They don’t need to confirm it, they work more by not denying things.)

Let me interpret this for people who don’t follow these Apple tempests closely (translation: the vast majority of the world’s population).:

1. The original statement does, indeed, address publishing apps and not software as a service apps. Software as a service apps are typically “browser-based” applications. As, in this instance, Jobs is referring to an iPad app as a software as a service, then one can start building a case that a free app for eBook reading is a software as a service — a distinction that could apply, for example, if you wanted to give away an app and sell an RSS subscription feed that could be read in such an app.

2. In addition to the original Apple press release, much of the controversy has been fueled by the post-statement clarification by Apple spokes person Trudy Muller that did imply provisions of the 30% rule and the ban on in-app links to browser-based ecommerce alternatives would be applied concurrently to apps that were not what Steve Jobs termed “publishing apps.”

3. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, when it comes to Apple-related strict constructionism it works in a way that would be like getting to email the original signers of the constitution and being able to ask, “What exactly did you mean when you said, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed?” and the authors and signers could answer, “we meant that to apply precisely and exactly to … ” In other words, Steve has spoken: “We created subscriptions for publishing apps, not SaaS apps for hunters.”

So what does this mean?

Well, it means that some of the more illogical issues that are fogging up the subscription issue can be cleared away and the issue can be debated on one front: publication apps.

The Trudy Muller post-statement messaging needs to be clarified in relationship to non-publishing apps. (Perhaps another email from Steve.)

While I still believe the 30% Apple commission is both logical and fair when viewed in the context of the typical costs of subscription acquisition and content distribrution, if publishers and others want to fight that out, fine — it’s just not my fight. (As I’ve said, publishers’ bigger challenge is to develop an app people actually want to purchase, and I haven’t seen too many of those, yet.)

My fight will continue to be for clarification on the “ban on in-app links” to in-browser sales sources, like those where individuals with eBook reading apps can purchase their eBooks by easily-clicking on an in-app link to their local bookstore.

Take away the in-app ban on hyperlinks to in-browser stores — which could be done with a broad interpretation of Steve’s “this is not about software as a service” — and this blog can go back to its typical “Apple-love” programming.