News Corp. getting saucy with Apple?

First Read The Wall Street Journal will no longer sell subscriptions or other content directly through its iPhone and iPad apps, the paper reports this morning. Canadian e-book seller Kobo announced a similar policy change.

At issue would appear to be Apple’s insistence that all in-app purchases on its devices be funneled through the iTunes App Store, where Apple takes a 30 percent cut of all transactions, rather than through a link to the seller’s own web site. Although Apple had appeared to relax enforcement of that rule in June, after stiff push-back from publishers, the moves by Kobo and the Journal suggest that grace period may have ended.

The Journal had been offering subscriptions to Apple device owners via a link in its app. But the paper’s publisher said Sunday it would disable all purchasing options in its iPhone and iPad apps. Users who download the app and wish to subscribe will have to visit separately or call customer service. 

“We remain concerned that Apple’s own subscription [rules] would create a poor experience for our readers, who would not be able to directly manage their WSJ account or to easily access our content across multiple platforms,” a Journal spokeswoman told the paper.

While hardly the first clash between Apple and a publisher over the App Store vig, it’s not the only recent dust-up between Apple and the Wall Street Journal, either.

As Philip Elmer-Dewitt of Fortune noted on Friday, the Journal ran a rather-less-than-ironclad story last week just ahead of Apple’s announcement of record-breaking results under the headline Some Apple Directors Ponder CEO Succession. Apple CEO Steve Jobs denounced the story as “hogwash” in an email to the Journal.

Two days later the Journal was back with an opinion piece by Dave Kansas charging that Apple’s out-sized success is not trickling down to — and may even be harming — other technology companies.

It can be a mistake to assume that different business units of the same large company — or even different offices within the same business unit — are all singing from the same choir book. It’s possible the timing of the stories and the subscription dispute are unrelated to each other or to any broader dispute between Apple and News Corp. And we know from Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before Parliament last week that News Corp. senior management would never, ever let business considerations influence editorial decisions at the company’s newspapers.

All the same, I wouldn’t count on any other deals involving Apple and News Corp. getting done for a while.

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