Epic Games has submitted a proposal for a temporary ban to prevent Google from removing the independent music store front Bandcamp from the Android App Store – which Google has apparently threatened to do because Bandcamp uses its own billing system instead of paying Google an App Store fee.
Bandcamp, which Epic acquired in March, has been using its own billing system on Android since 2015 and was able to do so due to rules that exempt digital music from using Google’s billing system, according to a blog post by Bandcamp’s co-founder and CEO Ethan Diamond. “But Google is now changing its rules to require Bandcamp (and other apps like it) to use Google Play Billing exclusively for payments for digital goods and services and pay a revenue share to Google,” says Diamond.
Under Google’s new rules, Bandcamp was to make changes from June 1st. Diamond says Bandcamp would be forced to choose between passing on fees to customers, passing on fees to artists, running its Android business at a loss or turning off sales in the Android app.
Epic claims that the move to Google’s billing system would affect its ability to continue to give artists 82 percent of their Bandcamp revenue, because it would have to pay Google 10 percent – yes, 10 percent, not 30 percent, as it looks in addition to Google offering Bandcamp some sort of boyfriend deal here. “Paying Google even a 10 percent revenue share would force Epic to change Bandcamp’s current business model or run the Bandcamp business at a long-term loss,” Epic argues.
Epic also claims that music artists may also have to wait longer for their money, saying that its current payment system allows artists to be paid within 24 to 48 hours of a sale, but that Google does not pay developers until “15 to 45 days after” a sale.”
While that argument certainly sounds compelling, it did not work when another platform trying to pay creators, Fanhouse, tried it against Apple last year. Fanhouse ended up adding a 50 percent surcharge to cover Apple tax. That may be why Epic is going to court instead of just trying to embarrass Google in public – but it could also be that Epic is hoping to use Bandcamp as a pawn in its larger battle against Google and Apple. Epic sued both Apple and Google in August 2020, alleging violations of antitrust laws after both platforms were kicked out Fortnite out of their stores when Epic introduced its own payment mechanism in the app for the game. The Google case will not be processed until 2023.
In today’s application, Epic says Google is changing its policies “under the guise of a ‘clarification’, as it announced in September 2020.” But that update has not only affected Epic – earlier this month, Barnes & Noble removed the ability to purchase digital books from its Android app, while Audible no longer lets you use a debit or credit card to purchase Audible titles, apparently to Avoid paying Google’s fee. And in this case, it looks like Google has offered Bandcamp a 10 percent discount instead of 30 percent.
Epic also notes that building the infrastructure to integrate Google’s billing system would “require significant time and effort” – right now, Bandcamp’s in-app solution is “fully integrated with PayPal.” But again, as Epic admits, Google announced these changes just over a year ago, and before Epic bought Bandcamp. Looks like Epic knew about the upcoming billing changes when it bought the company.
And it would not be out of character for Epic to lay the groundwork for a legal trap in good time. Epic’s own internal emails show that it put such a trap in Fortnite sag: “[T]The goal is to drag Google into a legal battle over anti-trust, “Epic Marketing Director Haseeb Mailk wrote in an email from September 2019.” If we are rejected for only offering Epic’s payment solution. The fight begins. It will be fun!”
You can read two such emails here – look for points # 35 and # 38. And you can read the entire movement embedded below.