Bulletins

Google is lowering its Play Store app fees even further

In a rare move, the search giant is telling app makers they'll now keep more money from digital transactions.

A Google office.

Of course, these changes aren't happening out of the goodness of Google's heart.

Photo: John Nacion/Getty Images

The latest blow to the mobile app economy's once-standard 30% cut is coming from an unlikely player: Google. The search giant on Thursday announced it would collect a lower fee from both subscription and music-streaming apps, reducing its standard cut from nearly a third of all digital transactions down to a flat 15% for eligible app categories.


To be clear, Google already allows subscription-based apps to keep 85% of revenue so long as a customer signs up through the Android app and stays subscribed for more than a year. That change was one Google made back in 2017, following in Apple's footsteps as Google has been prone to do over the years with regard to managing its mobile app marketplace. Google also followed Apple in lowering app store fees earlier this year to 12% for small developers making less than $1 million per year.

But Google is now going a step further, and breaking from its tradition of only moving when Apple does, by establishing a new flat revenue split for certain apps on the Play Store. Google's official justification is that it has "heard that customer churn makes it challenging for subscription businesses to benefit from that reduced rate," so it's making it easier for developers that bill on a recurring basis to sign up customers within their app with more confidence they'll stick around.

Google says e-book apps and music-streaming apps may also be eligible for a fee as low as 10%, but that developers will have to review the new guidelines and work with Google to establish a new rate. "The new rates recognize industry economics of media content verticals and make Google Play work better for developers and the communities of artists, musicians and authors they represent," Google said. The company earlier this year established the 15% rate as part of a multi-platform initiative called Play Media Experience, so apps that met certain requirements like building complaint versions of software across the Wear OS and Android Auto platforms could enjoy the lower cut.

Of course, these changes aren't happening out of the goodness of Google's heart, but rather amid increasing regulatory pressure on Big Tech and mobile app stores in particular in the U.S. and abroad.

Both Apple and Google remain embroiled in lawsuits with Fortnite maker Epic Games over app store fees and restrictions, and the Epic v. Apple case, which went to trial in May, resulted in a verdict that would in theory make it easier for developers to bypass app store fees by transacting with customers directly. Apple and Epic have appealed the ruling and Apple, has asked to delay the court's order to change its rules around those so-called steering provisions, leaving court-ordered changes to the App Store off the table for now. Google's case with Epic has yet to go to trial.

Putting aside the Epic battle, there is yet more regulatory pressure on Big Tech and an especially intense focus on Google. That includes new legislation passed in South Korea earlier this year that, when enforced, will open the door for app developers to bypass both the App Store and Play Store directly using of in-app payment systems, as well as similar legislation since proposed by lawmakers in the U.S. Google is also at the center of a number of antitrust investigations in the U.S. related to the Play Store, its search engine and other parts of its sprawling business, all of which are likely influencing Google's decision today to lower its fees further.

"Google has a long history of evolving Android and Play's model based on feedback from our developer ecosystem on what they need to be successful on Play," a Google spokesperson told The Verge when asked about why it decided to lower its fees for certain apps.

Update Oct. 21, 2:15PM ET: Included more information from Google's official announcement post.

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Another outlier, Google, has been in hybrid mode since April, reportedly leading to outbreaks of COVID-19 at the office. Yet for all the talk about Google’s three-day-a-week RTO policy, two workers who spoke to Protocol anonymously say it’s not much of a mandate. An employee and a contractor both told Protocol that the hybrid policy doesn’t seem to be imposed across the board.

“The impression I have is that it’s basically not enforced,” the employee said. The Google contractor said attendance varied across different teams, noting that while some of their teammates go to the office three days a week, most only go in once. (Neither Google nor Apple returned emails inquiring about how their hybrid policies are enforced.)

Sundar Pichai’s plan to make Google “20% more efficient” may lead nervous workers to choose to go to the office more often. (An August survey found that CBRE tenants were “evenly split” on whether a recession would drive more workers to the office out of anxiety for their job security.)

As of now, most companies’ hybrid requirements are only enforced as a “very soft mandate,” said Brian Kropp, distinguished VP of research at Gartner. About half of companies with a hybrid mandate are tracking office attendance, Kropp said, but even those that are doing so “have no real plans to fire people for not coming to the office, as long as they’re getting their work done.”

More than 40% of HR leaders surveyed by Gartner last month said they weren’t tracking office attendance. Thirty-five percent said they were gathering attendance data from key fob or badge swipes, while 22% said managers were tracking their teams’ attendance. Another 10% said employees were self-reporting their attendance.

Companies that selectively enforce attendance requirements may wind up with unfair outcomes, Kropp said.

“If you have a mandated set of days where you have to come to the office, but it’s unevenly enforced across the company, then you run into issues of fairness,” Kropp said. “That just creates more variability across the company, which then creates more risk as well in terms of that inconsistency.”

And while flexibility puts companies at an advantage when it comes to competing for talent, it also requires more sophisticated management, Kropp said. “The question you should really be asking is: Does our managerial population, on average, have the capability to manage much more flexibility, or not?” Kropp said. “If the answer is ‘yes, they do,’ you should push for as much flexibility as you can.”

To run high-performing teams in a flexible environment, managers need to be “half social worker, half engineer,” Kropp said. That means more empathy and more capacity for planning and organization.

While companies may seem settled into their hybrid ways of working, many leaders are leaving policies open to change with time rather than overcommitting themselves. The world is unpredictable, as we’ve learned in the last 2.5 years. “A lot of these executives — the way that they’re framing it now is, ‘This is our hybrid strategy for now, and it could evolve and could change,’” Kropp said.

Amazon falls into that category. As Andy Jassy put it at the Code Conference on Wednesday, Amazon doesn’t have a plan to force employees back to the office: “We’re going to proceed adaptively as we learn.”

A version of this story appeared in Protocol's Workplace newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox three times a week.

If you truly want to gauge a company’s culture before accepting a job offer, you have to become a bit of a sleuth. A journalist, even. Troll Blind and Glassdoor. Browse LinkedIn for current employees who seem trustworthy, or former employees who seem not to have an agenda.

But not everyone has the time to investigate companies in this way. Instead, they may rely on company-sponsored chats with current employees.

  • Ian Royer, a public relations specialist with Amazon Canada, took Amazon up on its “Candid Chats” program that connects candidates with members of employee resource groups.
  • He was on a mission to determine whether he fit with Amazon’s culture. “I am at a point in my career where when I do interviews, I interview for my fit, not the company,” Royer said.
  • Royer spoke with representatives from Amazon’s Black Employee Network and LGBTQ group Glamazon after encouragement from his recruiter. Those conversations ultimately won him over.

Steve McElfresh, founder of HR Futures, said it’s worth it for employers to offer to connect candidates with current employees. The more information, the more helpful to candidates. Still, it’s impossible for company-sponsored candidate-employee chats to be completely candid. Those chats are not entirely trustworthy.

  • “In most cases you’ve got to assume they’re using a stable of people who are prepped and primed to be positive about the company,” McElfresh said. “There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but I think you've got to take it with a grain of salt.”

For those who want to connect with employees on their own, scouring LinkedIn and similar sites might be the best option. Professional platform Candor, a new startup trying to be the “more authentic LinkedIn,” was built with job sleuthing in mind.

  • “Especially in a remote world, it's so hard to figure out and so hard to get to know people and know if that culture fit is going to be there at your next opportunity,” said Candor founder Kelsey Bishop.
  • Candor profiles look kind of like corporate mood boards, with descriptors like “my core values,” “teammates that really inspire me” and “things that motivate me.” Bishop said the service is meant for casual networking, and to help people suss out the working styles of their potential future co-workers.

Bishop added that anonymous platforms can quickly turn toxic, hence Candor’s model with private profiles. But without anonymity, how candid will someone really be?

  • “As a candidate, you have to dig beyond what’s publicly available,” McElfresh said. “I would certainly be looking for more of the anonymous material.”
  • On the other hand, you can’t verify the identity, and therefore validity, of anonymous reviews. “The problem with anonymous material is you get the extremes,” McElfresh said. “You get people who are clearly unhappy, resentful and are almost assuredly overrepresented.”

The most prepared candidates will do all of the above. Just perusing Glassdoor or talking to one company-sponsored employee won’t give you the full picture. You’ve got to really do your research to figure out the fit.

A version of this story appeared in Protocol's Workplace newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox three times a week.

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Bulletins