Apple Again Hikes Prices for Its Media Services

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Apple today announced that it is increasing the prices of some of its subscription-based services, including Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and Apple News+, for new and existing subscribers in the U.S. and many other countries around the world.

The price changes in the U.S. are as follows:

  • Apple TV+: $6.99 per month → $9.99 per month
  • Apple Arcade: $4.99 per month → $6.99 per month
  • Apple News+: $9.99 per month → $12.99 per month

For those who subscribe to Apple TV+ on an annual basis, the price has increased from $69 per year to $99 per year accordingly.

Prices for the Apple One bundles that include these services are also increasing as a result:

  • Individual: $16.95 per month → $19.95 per month
  • Family: $22.95 per month → $25.95 per month
  • Premier: $32.95 per month → $37.95 per month

[...] There are no price increases for Apple Music and Apple Fitness+ today.

I’d have linked to the Apple Newsroom announcement of these price increases, but there’s not a word about them there. Apple Newsroom is sort of a “good news only” company blog.

At the Apple One bundle level, these increases are pretty modest, but at the standalone level, these hikes are notable. TV+ is now double the price it debuted at just four years ago.

Tom Warren, on Twitter/X, makes a keen observation regarding the ever-escalating prices of streaming services:

If Apple TV, Netflix, and Disney+ keep raising prices then it will only force more people into piracy. It’s already surprising how many in the UK use modified Fire TV sticks to access pirated TV shows and movies.

I’ll quibble with his verb choice and suggest “push” not “force” — no one is forced to bootleg content — but the point stands. Ever since the iTunes Music Store opened 20 years ago, at the height of MP3 file sharing via Napster and similar platforms, I’ve always thought of media bootlegging as a form of negotiation. It’s like ad hoc collective bargaining between users and the corporations that set the prices and define the experience of consuming the media.

Subscription pricing requires a form of calculus to find the sweet spot that generates the most money. Set the price too low and you’ll reduce piracy but leave money on the table. Set the price too high and you’ll generate less money because more users — ones who might otherwise have subscribed at a lower price — will choose to bootleg. (Some people, of course, will always choose to bootleg. There’s no point trying to find a price to appease them.)

But pricing isn’t the only factor in this equation. The experience is too. Bootlegging’s obvious appeal is the price: zero. But it’s always been a bit of a pain in the ass. Weird apps and sketchy sources. Steve Jobs emphasized this aspect of the iTunes Music Store when he introduced it: 99 cents was an appealing price, but not as appealing as free. But the overall experience of searching for and downloading music from iTunes was so much better than bootlegging that it made you happy to pay for the songs.

Apple still gets that part: their apps for consuming their services are generally very low on annoyances. You almost never have to sign back in because your previous sign-in expired. So many of the streaming video services I use on my Apple TV make me jump through hoops with those incredibly annoying sign-back-in flows where you have to open a URL on the web using another device (probably your phone, if you’re on your couch), and enter a code that’s on the TV screen. Then you have to wait like 20 seconds and they let you back in. Then a few months from now you have to do it again for unexplained reasons.

Every time the official service makes you watch an unskippable ad, every time their shitty custom video player makes fast-forwarding or rewinding janky, every time their shitty app feels slow or forgets where you were in a movie that you paused days ago — those little annoyances add up, and they reduce the user experience advantage that paying for content should provide compared to bootlegging it.

If the “pirate or pay?” debate for users were just about price, zillions more people would bootleg their music and content and games. It’s more like this:

  • Pirate: Pay nothing (good), feel guilty about stealing the content (bad), go through all the hassle of obtaining pirated content and cracked copies of games and apps, and managing your own local library of content that’s fallen off the back of these proverbial trucks (bad). Also, there’s a risk of legal trouble, getting your internet service disabled, or just plain embarrassment if some piracy watchdog catches you (bad).

  • Pay: Cough up the monthly subscription fee for the service (bad), feel no guilt because you’re not stealing anything (good), avoid the hassles of obtaining and managing bootlegged media content (good), and enjoy the ease of use of the official app for the service.

I didn’t put a “(good)” or “(bad)” after that last one, because it varies so wildly from one service to another. The only content I’ve bootlegged in years are those rare films that aren’t available through legitimate channels, like the wonderful “de-specialized” editions of the original Star Wars trilogy. In addition to the fact that I have more money than sense, I’m incredibly lazy when it comes to consuming entertainment. I don’t want to work, at all, to find it, download it, or manage it. But some streaming apps are so bad they make it feel like as much work to watch their content legitimately as it would be to pirate it.

That’s one thing that is vastly under-remarked-upon regarding Netflix: they’ve always provided a terrific user experience. Their apps are fast, reliable, and well-designed. Netflix never forgets or expires my sign-in credentials. You can tell that everyone at Netflix, right up to Ted Sarandos and Reed Hastings, cares about the entire user experience. Netflix, culturally, is much like Apple in that regard: they have good taste baked into the company DNA.

As for Apple’s price hikes today, I’m an Apple One Premier subscriber, and I’m fine — not happy, of course, but fine — with paying an extra $5/month for everything I get. Of the three component services whose standalone prices went up, TV+ and Arcade seem justified. News+, however, does not.

I’ve been saying for a few years that Apple TV+ is becoming the new HBO — a channel dedicated to prestigious original content, quality over quantity — and that feels more true than ever now that HBO is being watered down inside Max. Apple TV+ is home to a steady stream of original shows that my family really enjoys. I’m pretty sure we have more favorite shows on TV+ than any other service. Unlike Netflix, Apple sticks with all its good shows and renews them for multiple seasons, allowing them to end satisfyingly.1 TV+’s average content quality is way higher than that of Disney+, which has been cranking out embarrassing franchise-tanking turds like Ahsoka and Secret Invasion, relative disappointments like Obi-Wan Kenobi (a bloviating six-part series which should have been cut down to one solid two-hour movie), and only occasional gems like Andor. And while Apple TV+ has long stood out for its relative dearth of old library content, in terms of original new content, it has way more good stuff — for my taste at least — than Amazon Prime, Hulu, Max, or the also-rans like Peacock and Paramount+. I just don’t care as much about streaming access to old library content compared to new original stuff, and I don’t think most other people do either.

As for Apple Arcade — I personally don’t play many video games, but more and more, the ones I do play on my iPhone are from Arcade. No ads, no in-app-purchase pay-to-win chicanery, and an ever-growing library of really good games that span a wide range of genres. $7/month feels more than fair.

But News+? The primary and obvious appeal of Apple News+ is getting access to paywalled content from participating publications like The Wall Street Journal. That’s a long list of newspapers and magazines. But the actual reading experience often stinks — most articles from most publishers in Apple News are lousy with huge ugly ads, breaking up each article every few paragraphs. And the ads are often almost comically low-class chumbox scams. I posted screenshots of a few of them just a few weeks ago on Mastodon. Just look at them.2 These ads — and the quantity of them — do not look or feel like something you should experience in a premium $10/month subscription — let alone the new price of $13/month. The only way this price increase for News+ can be justified is if Apple is planning to use the increased subscription fee revenue to both reduce the number of ads in articles and increase their quality.

As with bootlegging media and pirating games and apps, ad blocking is a negotiation between users and publishers. Reading the same article in a web browser, with extensions installed that block user-hostile ads, is, for me at least, almost always a far better experience than reading in Apple News. Given that News+ is a not-cheap paid subscription, that user-experience equation should be the other way around: it should be nicer to read in Apple News than on the web. But it’s not. And yet Apple is raising the price.

Finally, I’ll note with mild annoyance but absolutely zero surprise that while Apple is now steadily raising prices for its media content services every year or so, the data storage tiers for iCloud — whether free or paid — have remained unchanged since 2015 except at the highest tier. Eight years! Steady increases in media subscription pricing are annoying but understandable. Never increasing the amount of storage most users get with iCloud feels stubborn and spiteful.

  1. I said good shows, not all shows↩︎

  2. If you scroll through the replies to my post on Mastodon, you’ll see a few people suggesting that the reason I’m getting served bottom-of-the-barrel chumbox ads like this is that I must have “Personalized Ads” turned off in Settings → Privacy & Security → Apple Advertising. But I’ve got Personalied Ads turned on, and have had it turned on for a long time. These are Apple’s good ads in Apple News. Glutton for punishment that I am, I’m actually tempted to turn Personalized Ads off and see if the ads get even worse. ↩︎︎