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App Store bundle error punished developer for success

Apple says its curated App Store is free from scams and protects developer interests

The developer behind StopTheMadness Pro noticed that Apple charged the coder for refunds twice when a customer bought an app bundle, resulting in the developer owing Apple money for every bundle sale.

The App Store has a simple system for transactions. The developer charges customers for an app, Apple takes a portion as a commission, and the rest is paid to the developer.

StopTheMadness app developer Jeff Johnson discovered that Apple has been messing up this seemingly simple transaction system since at least February. For every app bundle Johnson sold, Apple was charging the developer money instead of paying out the proceeds.

The problem comes from an app bundle Johnson offers for StopTheMadness Pro.

He wanted to offer existing StopTheMadness app users an easy way to upgrade by bundling the old and new apps together. The new app is $14.99, while the old app varied in price but was usually around $9.99, so the final bundle price would be $5 or so.

Apple only charges the user the difference between the bundle price and existing purchase amounts for apps already owned in the bundle. But for the developer, their invoice shows a full bundle price charge, and the previous app purchase was refunded.

For some reason, starting in February, Johnson started getting two refunds for each bundle sold, leading to him owing Apple around $5 for each bundle sold. He lost money on every app bundle, which is obviously not how this is supposed to work.

Johnson did reach out to Apple Finance and expects to hear back "within 3 business days," which translates to Wednesday. Apple did finally reach out to Johnson after this story was published by various outlets.

If the charge Apple was making was less, the error likely would never have been caught. Johnson only discovered the error because his sales numbers from Apple Store Connect and the invoice matched, but the expected income was much lower by thousands of dollars.

Apple attributed the issue to a bug in the bundle pricing calculation, which has been fixed as of Tuesday. Apple intends to compensate affected developers for lost revenue.

Johnson has found an issue with how Apple presents itself as an important steward of the App Store that keeps scam apps out and protects developer interests. However, this bundle issue and repeat problems with App Store scams show otherwise and have left Johnson to boycott features like Feedback Assistant in the past.

Updated May 15, 8:25 p.m.: added information about Apple's response