Barely a month after Bandcamp was acquired by Epic Games, Google was reportedly threatening to kick the music platform out of the Google Play Store.
The move was revealed in a filing by Epic Games and publicized in a blog post written by Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond.
Epic Games sued Google and Apple in 2020 after both companies kicked Epic’s popular Fortnite game from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store respectively. Fortnite had introduced its own in-app payment system, cutting out Google and Apple from taking a cut of the game’s in-app purchases.
Epic purchased Bandcamp in March 2022.
Depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, there are a few options open to Bandcamp. All of them will negatively impact artists.
A bit more backstory: Google reserves the right to charge up to 30% of all purchases on the Google Play Store. Since 2015, Bandcamp had been exempt from using Google’s payment system for its Android app under a program in which Google specifically exempted music apps. The motion filed in Federal Court in San Francisco notes that Bandcamp is tightly integrated with PayPal as its payment system and changing would require “significant time and effort.”
However, Google has notified Bandcamp that it plans to require use of Google’s payment system for purchases made using the Bandcamp Android app, with Google receiving a 10% cut. This would “threaten to destroy another of Bandcamp’s key selling points to artists — namely, its ability to give artists around 82% of the revenue earned from their sales,” the filing argues. Diamond also argues that it would also delay payments to artists. “Instead of receiving payment 24 to 48 hours” following a sale, Diamond wrote, “artists may not be paid until 15 to 45 days after a sale.”
It’s tempting to speculate that Google is retaliating against Epic Games by punishing Bandcamp users, though the filing notes that Google had issued a notice that this change was coming over a year ago — well before Epic purchased Bandcamp. The filing notes that Google gave Bandcamp a June 1 deadline to comply, though Google only provided confirmation that it will enforce its new policy against Bandcamp — “including by removing the app from Google Play” — on April 21, 2022.
On May 20, Bandcamp announced a “joint stipulation” with Google which will allow Bandcamp to “continue to operate using our existing payment system on Android devices.” The agreement is only a temporary measure while the Epic vs. Google battle rages, and Bandcamp will set aside 10% of revenue from digital sales into escrow until the case is resolved — “a cost we will bear,” the company wrote.
Depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, there are a few options open to Bandcamp. All of them will negatively impact artists. Diamond notes Bandcamp could pass on this additional 10% fee owed to Google to consumers, or to artists. Bandcamp could run their Android app at a loss or “turn off digital sales in the Android app,” making it play-only. In the filing Epic’s lawyers equate this to transforming the app “from a marketplace to a window shop.” (It should be noted that Bandcamp’s iOS app already functions in this way.)
Android is by most measures the most popular operating system in the world, with an estimated 41% of the global market. Bandcamp claims they handle sales for “more than 500,000 independent artists and 11,000 independent labels.”