Making Sense of the Apple Volume Purchase Program

Our guest post this week is written by Bob Dronski, creator of EdgeMates, and an IT resource at his local school. Bob has just given me the equivalent of an entire course on bulk purchasing for educational apps, and I still have more to learn. Thanks Bob for taking the time to enlighten us about the Volume Purchase Program!

We developers know how to upload our apps to the app store, but how do schools actually buy them in quantity and at a discount? I have the joy of experiencing both sides of the process, as I’m also the IT guy for an elementary school who was an early adopter of iPads. Here’s more than you ever wanted to know about the Apple Volume Purchase program (VPP for short.)

When a developer creates an app, they have an option of whether to participate in Apple’s Volume Purchase Program. If they check the box, that means their app is available to schools for bulk purchasing at a 50% discount.

There are several hoops a school has to go through. First, they apply and get approved by Apple.  Once that happens, the bureaucratic fun begins!

The big kahuna is the Program Manager, who is in charge of purchasing “Volume Vouchers” for the school.  These are elegant little cards that are physically sent to the school.  (You read that right. Nothing is offered electronically.)

This is the only way a school can fund their account. They cannot use gift cards, nor any existing credits in any other AppleID accounts.  As a matter of fact, even existing AppleID’s from a teacher’s personal account cannot be used. Everyone involved must create their own new AppleIDs and use them exclusively with the Volume Purchase Program.

The Program Manager then creates Program Facilitators.  The Program Facilitators are the people who actually get to order the apps, and they each have an AppleID.  If there is only one person who is both the Program Manager (purchaser) and Program Facilitator (app downloader), a separate AppleID is required for each role.

Here’s where it really gets interesting.  If you have multiple Program Facilitators, the Program Manager must give a separate volume voucher to each Program Facilitator.  You cannot split the value of a card between Program Facilitators.  For example, if you have a $100 card, you can’t use it by giving $50 worth of credit to two different Program Facilitators.

Facilitators then go to the Education Store to order apps. They can order any quantity of apps, but need to purchase at least 20 to receive the 50% discount. Upon purchase, the deliverable is a CSV file containing redemption codes. These redemption codes look just like promo codes, but the file also includes a little more bookkeeping type information for each entry.

So what happens with the codes?  That depends on how the school wants to treat them, or more accurately, who should actually own the apps. There are two schools of thought on this (no pun intended). Some schools create their own accounts and redeem the apps that way.  The apps are the property of the school, and can be synced and transferred between  as many devices as the school has licenses. Other schools look at apps as consumables, like any other office supply. They have teachers and students redeem the codes with their own AppleIDs. That way the teachers and students own the apps themselves.  It becomes a matter of what keeps more bookkeeping sense.

Who would have believed so much happens when we developers click the “Discount for Educational Institutions” checkbox?

Note from the Editor: While working with Bob on this post, I discovered many more questions about how schools sync and license apps to multiple devices. Feel free to add comments about topics you’d like to clarify or see addressed. 

29 Replies to “Making Sense of the Apple Volume Purchase Program”

  1. Wow. I had no idea the hoops that had to be jumped through! I am even more great full now (and somewhat amazed by) the volume purchases we have received for our app. Thanks for the very enlightening article!

  2. Thanks for enlightening us, Bob. I visualized a flowchart to follow the process. I’ll be passing this along to my Australian teacher friends who can now order via the VPP.

  3. I work for a school district and do all of their volume purchases. I hope that developers find ways around the in-app purchases. We simply don’t have a way to do it since we don’t use credit cards. If I see an app that looks good but needs in-app purchases to fully function, I generally don’t even recommend it to our teachers. I’d prefer to pay for it up front then it be free with in-app purchases.
    Thanks for all of your work here. Our school district really appreciates it!

  4. Thank you for providing this information! I am curating Apps With Curriculum to present to educators who want lesson plans with their apps. I will pass this article on to school districts.

  5. I work in special education in my school district. Our district has purchased a very limited number of iPads but has purchased some really wonderful apps. At this point, the volume purchases that our district makes can only be used on district purchased iPads. Is there a way for our school district to allow employees who have their own iPads, and are using them to work with children, to have access to district purchased apps?

  6. Thanks for all the interest. I’m glad people are finding my post useful.

    @Josh – You make a VERY important point. Developers need to realize that the freemium model (free app w/in app purchases) make your apps a complete non-starter for anyone participating in the VPP program. There is NO WAY for schools to make in-app purchases through the program.

    @Jodi – It comes down to the number of licenses you purchased. If you have 20 iPads all with the app installed and 20 licenses, legally you need to remove the app from one of those 20 iPads before you put it on your iPad. It is physically possible, though. Either via Apple’s Configurator app which manages licenses, or by signing out of your current appleID account on the iPad, signing in as the account that purchased the apps, and then going to the app store and download your app from the Purchased/Not on this iPad section. But be aware that the next time you sync, iTunes will tell you that the app is not purchased with your account and will delete it when you begin the sync.

  7. Thanks for the post Bo! As one of the instructional tech specialists in my school and being a part developer (KidsAndBeyond), I couldn’t help chuckle and nod my head in agreement as I was reading your post. Apple does not make it easy! In our district, the Dir of Technology is the Program Manager and facilitator. So teachers send their requests to him and he puts in the order in $100 denominations. I teach in a HS where we have an iPad cart. I have the pleasure of syncing 25 iPads at a time. While we thought this would be easy, with one designated laptop for backing up and syncing apps, it’s not always that easy if our students (these are HS students, mind you) have downloaded free apps on iPads using their own iTunes accounts. Now you have the annoying iTunes messages popping up that say “you have items that were not purchased…” So, now the purpose of syncing 25 at one shot is defeated! Gotta love iPads, iTunes, apps 😉 But it’s all worth it for the kids….

  8. Thank you for this useful and enlightening blog post. You are right, when we checked the box to participate in VPP with our apps we had no idea the process involved on the other end. Wow. We can only hope Apple will continue to improve this process over time.

  9. Thanks Bob for shedding some light on this important aspect of the app business. We went so far as to create special versions of our apps to get around the in-app purchase restrictions. We created “Dexteria VPP” and “LetterReflex VPP” with VPP customers in mind. The apps include the multi-user functionality that is only available as an in-app purchase in the regular apps. We priced it so VPP customers getting the 50% discount save money buying the VPP version.

    We do hope Apple improves things in the future, but in the meantime we are shaping our product strategy around the limitations of the current Education Store process. We are getting good traction as more schools learn about the VPP.

  10. Thanks for the great post! I work for a district that just recently purchased iPads for a group of 50 SLPs and we are definitely trying to figure out how best to set up the accounts and navigate the volume purchasing.

  11. @Chris, be aware that here in Australia Apple don’t offer volume vouchers. It’s credit card or nothing according to their phone support. I’m setting up a Facilitator account right now to see if PayPal is usable, according Apple it isn’t but tbh most of the Apple support here are pretty clueless about the whole thing.

  12. It would be nice if apple would convert out pre-apple config purchases over. I have bought $500 in iTunes cards on apps and I do not want to lose them. If audited from the office I need to show that indeed these apps are there.

  13. Thanks for the post. I have a music lab where I have issued 15 students their own iPads to take back and forth to school with them. It’s a 1/2 year class so in a few weeks I’ll be taking back those iPads and giving them to my new class of students. This will involve a complete wipe of the iPads and a new user accounts. My question is, how to I reassign the music apps I have purchased and distributed to the first class to the new class?

  14. Also there is another problem with the volume purchase program for education. The program refers only to the apps that are paid to download. If you need to purchase inApps and the apps are free to download they are not listed in the Apps Store when the Program Manager is searching for them. Has anybody experienced this situation? And what would be the solution? Help will be very much appreciated.

  15. Hi Anne,

    I’ve literally just asked Apple directly about the in-app purchase problem. Their ‘solution’ is to contact the developer of the app and ask them to create a full version that can be bought through the VPP.

    So basically, pointing the finger of blame at the developer, which I wasn’t very impressed with.

  16. Thanks for the clear picture of VPP. Here in Australia, it is quite a recent development. Parents at the school donated iTunes gift cards at the beginning of the school year but now they are useless as we switched to VPP and Configurator. Over $600 worth. That’s a small fortune of apps down the drain. Apple should allow these to be converted into credit in the Apple Education Store. It’s all money to them in the end. I love teaching with technology but the logistics need to become simpler. Thanks again for the information.

  17. Thanks for this VPP info.
    Just to be clear: If we supervise iPads with Apple Configurator and participate in VPP, then the only apps we can purchase are those that are available through VPP. Is that correct?

  18. Hi Greg, I would need to defer to Bob, the post author on that one. I’ll tag him for you. –Lorraine. But I believe that is correct.

  19. I had to set up our district for the volume purchasing program. Unfortuntely, we are unable to use the “discount” due to the limited number of ipads we have for our students. At this point, in time I have so many apple id’s that I no longer buy any Apple products for my personal consumpation. I have moved onto the kindle as well as a “non” apple phone.

  20. Just wondering … how do I get a list of which apps are available through VPP? I know the apps I need for our collection of 15 iPads (more to come slowly). I need to check if the apps we need will be available before I register with VPP.

  21. Thanks a lot for the blog.
    “Who would have believed so much happens when we developers click the “Discount for Educational Institutions” checkbox?” – The exact thing I was searching for. Was a little bit confused from the apple docs, whether this check box will mark my education app as vpp. But now I understand that, this is that magical checkbox!

    Just to clarify: Can we use the ‘App Store and Ad Hoc’ certificate for the VPP education app or do we need to use ‘Apple Push Notification service SSL (Production)?’

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