Is AppStore Commission Cut Good for Apple Stock?

by Trefis Team
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Last week, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) indicated that it would be cutting its commissions on app sales and in-app purchases from 30% to 15% for smaller developers, who earn less than $1 million annually from the AppStore. Apple has been facing significant criticism that its AppStore practices hurt smaller developers and tech giants, including Apple, face increasing scrutiny from regulators regarding their market power. This move should help Apple’s image to a large extent. App analytics company Sensor Tower estimates that about 98% of the developers that pay Apple commissions will benefit. [1]

However, will reducing commissions by half impact the performance of Apple’s highly lucrative and fast-growing Services business? After all, the AppStore is estimated to account for roughly a third of Apple’s Services Revenue. Not really. Apple earns a bulk of its AppStore revenue from the largest developers, with Sensor Tower indicating that developers who benefit from this program accounted for under 5% of App Store revenues last year. Moreover, the discounted fee will only apply until developers cross the $1 million threshold, after which Apple will bill them at the higher 30% commission rate.

Our dashboard Breaking Down Apple’s Services Revenue estimates the revenue figures for AppStore, Apple Music, Apple TV+, iCloud, Third-party Subscriptions, Licensing, Apple Care, and Apple Pay.

[Updated 8/17/2020] How The Epic Lawsuit Impacts Apple

Last week, Epic Games sued Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) for antitrust violations, after its popular Fortnite game was removed from the AppStore shortly after Epic let players bypass Apple’s in-app purchase system, avoiding the 30% commission on sales. Although Apple has had spats with developers in the past, the Epic lawsuit is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Epic lawsuit comes at a time when tech giants, including Apple, have been facing increasing scrutiny from regulators regarding their market power. Secondly, Apple is more dependent on its Services business than ever before, with hardware growth slowing (profits from Services grew 5x as fast as hardware profits over the first three-quarters of FY’20), and Epic’s lawsuit targets Apple’s commissions, which we estimate are Apple’s single most profitable revenue stream.

Apple made roughly about $360 million in commissions from Fortnite over the last two years per Sensor Tower –  a relative drop in the bucket for Apple which pulled in $260 billion-plus in revenues last year. [1] However, if Epic sees a favorable judgment, and if Apple is forced to reduce its commissions or change the terms of its AppStore, this is very likely to set a precedent, causing other developers to demand similar terms.

So what could be the financial impact of Apple reducing commissions across the board? Apple takes a 30% cut on App sales and subscriptions (15% from the second year of subscriptions) and we estimate that total commission revenues stood at almost $20 billion in FY’19 (out of a total of about $46 billion in Services Revenue).  If Apple reduced commissions to say 20% from 30%, it would reduced total commissions by about $7 billion to roughly $13 billion. Although the revenue impact would be limited for Apple (under 3% of Apple’s Total Revenue) the impact on profits would be more pronounced given that commissions are likely to be almost entirely profit. We estimate that Apple’s Operating Income would be about 10% lower if commissions were reduced, considering Apple posted about $64 billion in Operating Income in FY’19.

Now commissions of 30% are actually pretty standard across the industry – Alphabet’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Google, which also faces a similar lawsuit from Epic, as well as Microsoft and Amazon, charge roughly the same fees on app sales on their respective market places. However, Apple has the most to lose from this given the sheer scale of its business. AppStore revenues are roughly twice as large as Google’s Playstore.

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Notes:
  1. New York Times []
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