App Store Confidential author ‘surprised’ by Apple’s attempt to halt book

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Apple's not happy about former Apple employee Tom Sadowski's new book, App Store Confidential.
It's the book Apple tried to ban. Or, at least, slow down.
Photo: Murmann Verlag

The author of App Store Confidential says he is “surprised” by Apple’s attempt to halt sales of the book, and by the company’s allegations that the German-language memoir reveals trade secrets.

Tom Sadowski, a former App Store manager who worked at Apple from 2009 through 2019, told Cult of Mac he’s not sure which parts of his new book Cupertino objects to. “I’d love to [know], but unfortunately I don’t,” he said. “I am accused of betrayal of secrets without specifying it more precisely.”

The book, which reveals some inner workings of the App Store, comes at a sensitive time for Apple. The company faces mounting scrutiny, both at home and abroad, regarding its App Store policies, including accusations that it abuses its power.

Sadowski said his publisher, Murmann Verlag, alerted Apple about the book’s publication in December. The notification prompted a visit from a delegation of Apple lawyers to the publisher’s office last month.

“Of course we did not have to do that, but we wanted to avoid a legal dispute,” he said. “We were very surprised that they would, after having seen it, bring such big guns against the publisher and me.”

He acknowledged that the controversy over App Store Confidential proved good for book sales. However, he said that “this has never been my intention.”

Publisher stands by App Store Confidential

Murmann Verlag published App Store Confidential last week. Apple lawyers quickly moved in, asking the publisher to stop selling the book and to destroy all existing copies. However, Murmann Verlag says it stands by the book.

“We are determined to respond to any Apple injunction or other legal action that we may take,” said Murmann Verlag executive Peter Felixberger in a statement (translated). “We cannot allow Apple to take action against the book. From our point of view, the content and layout of the book are flawless in terms of journalism. It is an informative mix of personal narrative and non-fiction about the world of apps.”

The publisher claims the book sold very well and is already planning to print the next edition. At present, copies of the print book’s first run are sold out. (An ebook remains available.) It remains unclear whether Apple’s complaint, which the company has seemingly not yet filed in court, is the reason for the lack of availability. It seems more likely that, driven by the Streisand effect, the first print run sold out and a second has yet to hit shelves.

A blend of memoir and App Store advice

Cult of Mac obtained a digital copy of App Store Confidential, which blends Sadowski’s personal remembrances with advice for app developers. For the most part, the book reads like a useful guide for developers.

It combines the author’s insights on how Apple selects which apps to feature with his take on the industry’s future. For instance, he describes how Apple Arcade could hurt premium games, which cannot compete with Apple’s 100 titles for $5 subscription model.

There are, however, sections that could be viewed negatively by Apple. At one point, Sadowski describes a disagreement in Apple’s German operations in 2010 about how to promote the iTunes Store. The idea, he wrote, was to tie famous German celebrities, such as Heidi Klum and Boris Becker, into a promotion. Proceeds would go to a local aid organization.

Intended as a collaboration with German newspaper Bild, the idea was to present their favorite songs “to an audience of millions” in a print promotion. Apple executives apparently balked at the idea. Sadowski wrote that the decision left him “extremely embarrassed.”

Apple dismissed Spotify

He also hints, but doesn’t elaborate on, that Apple dismissed Spotify as “unsustainable” and is now paying the price. “We were rather arrogant and short-sighted and were punished for it,” he wrote.

There are also one or two more offhanded comments in the 199-page book that could rub Cupertino the wrong way. At one point, he opines that, in terms of selling music, “it’s just more fun, more difficult, and therefore more rewarding to discover a newcomer and make it big than to sell Rihanna’s 14th album.”

While it’s easy to see Sadowski’s point, this could also raise the hackles of those inside Apple who want to present themselves as friendly to (and passionate about promoting) big-name artists.

In addition, Sadowski said that being “featured” by the App Store is no longer enough to make an app an instant success. “‘Featuring’ no longer has the effect it had a few years ago,” he wrote.