The great Google Play billing crackdown is finally here.
Developers selling digital goods inside their Android apps all need to switch to Google Play billing, or they will be locked out of the Play Store. This has technically always been the rule at Google Play, but it went mostly unenforced until Google gave developers a deadline of September 2021 to get on board. The company then delayed the transition by letting app developers request a six-month extension, which ran out on March 31. So it has been a few days now—what’s different?
The Verge reports that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are both complying with Google’s rules. Amazon can sell whatever physical products it wants on its own billing system, but the company’s Audible division sells digital purchases, which means it’s Google Play or the highway. Audible has responded by pulling US currency purchases from the Android Audible app, though the company notes you can still spend “credits”—Audible’s free purchase vouchers—in the app.
A new support page entry says, “Starting with the Audible for Google Play Android app version 3.23, purchasing titles with a debit or credit card in the app is no longer supported.” While you can no longer make à la carte purchases, Amazon decided to let Audible subscriptions run through Google Play. Android app signups before April 1 go through Amazon, and after April 1, they’ll need to go through Google.
Barnes & Noble is in an unusual position. It’s ending digital purchases on its own hardware—the Nook HD 10″—because of the Google Play billing rules. The whole purpose of the Nook line was to let Barnes & Noble sell books, and now it’s just another tablet.
Barnes & Noble’s support page says, “As of April 4, 2022, with the release of NOOK Software Version 6.1, the ability to purchase has been removed from the Barnes & Noble NOOK App for Android and the NOOK HD 10” Designed with Lenovo.” Amazon and Barnes & Noble could both run their digital purchases through Google Play, but both companies have chosen not to because it would mean giving Google a cut of sales. Both apps are now just clients that will need your existing library synced to them.
As we’ve reported, not every company is subject to the new billing rules. Spotify managed to strike a special deal with Google that allows it to run its own billing system directly in the app. Google says this deal is the start of a “pilot” program called “user choice billing” that will “allow a small number of participating developers to offer an additional billing option next to Google Play’s billing system.”
Google first demands that developers implement Google Play billing, though, and that’s something Amazon and Barnes & Noble both seem unwilling to do. Barnes & Noble told The Verge that it was “not given the option of participating in an alternative billing program,” and the company “determined it was unable to integrate with Google billing.”
Besides Spotify, Netflix was another one of the prominent payment rule-breakers in the Play Store and was directly collecting credit card information for its own billing system. You can now sign up for a new Netflix account in the app, but you’ll be stuck until you check your email for a link to the Netflix website, where you can sign up outside of the app.
Google’s “March 31” deadline is pretty soft, as the only thing happening on that date is that developers can no longer ship app updates through Google Play. That’s not a big deal for the first few weeks, and if a developer issues an update exclusively using Google Play billing, it will get full Play Store access again. The real deadline is June 1, when any non-compliant apps will get booted from the Play Store.