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Summary:

The Financial Times struck out on its own recently with a web-based mobile app, which replaces its native iOS apps. So far, the experiment has been a success, with the app already seing more traffic from the web app than from its iPhone and iPad applications.

Financial Times HTML5 app

Financial Times HTML5 appThe Financial Times  struck out on its own recently with a web-based mobile app, opting to remove its native iOS applications from Apple’s App Store. So far, the experiment has been a success, reports FT.com Managing Director Rob Grimshaw. Grimshaw told Reuters  the company is already seeing more traffic from the web app than from its iPhone and iPad applications.

More than 700,000 people already use the FT web-based mobile site, which launched in June. The official FT iOS apps were then removed from the App Store at the end of August, because they failed to comply with Apple’s new in-app subscription rules. The new rules state that if a publisher offers subscriptions for content available in apps, they must also offer the ability to subscribe directly through the App Store, which entitles Apple to a 30-percent cut and doesn’t guarantee subscribers will pass on personal info to publishers, since it’s an opt-in process.

Grimshaw said the app is also better at getting users to engage than the desktop version of the website. He told Reuters that FT web app users “are consuming about three times as many pages through the app as they are through the desktop in an average visit.” No word on how that compares to iOS app engagement, however.

Even though the new FT app doesn’t have Apple’s backing, Grimshaw says that hasn’t dampened its ability to attract attention. A message on FT‘s home page with a link directing users to the mobile site has been a great tool for pushing people in the right direction, he says. It might also help that FT‘s HTML5 app has gotten lots of press because it represents one major publisher’s decision to say no to Apple’s efforts with iPad periodicals and the upcoming Newsstand feature of iOS 5, and is also an effort to create a mobile solution that works on multiple platforms.

The mobile app accounts for 15 percent of FT.com digital subscriptions, according to the company, and also 20 percent of FT.com page views coming from mobile users. But though these early numbers are interesting, they don’t necessarily mean this was the right move. When the iOS apps were removed from the store, FT‘s mobile app had 550,000 users. The addition of 150,000 users since isn’t a huge number for two months, and it’s possible this is still just an ongoing migration of existing mobile users moving from native apps to the mobile web.

The key to achieving true success with the web-based mobile app will be continued growth of the FT‘s digital subscriber base. If it can manage to add subscribers, and keep pace with or beat the subscriber growth of periodicals that do choose to go through Apple’s App Store, then we can expect a lot more publishers to follow suit.

  1. Michael W. Perry Thursday, September 22, 2011

    Their success isn’t surprising. Apple’s arguments in favor of giving it a 30% cut seemed to assume its endorsement added that much value. That’s hardly the case, particularly with anyone older than fourteen. People subscribe to the Financial Times or the Economist because of the quality of their content, not because of any Apple branding.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

    1. Apple’s policy has nothing to taking a cut or giving an endorsement. It is 100% about the users of iOS devices not having to reach for their credit card every 2 minutes as they use apps, which is an experience that is already available on the World Wide Web. Many App Store features are specifically designed to be an alternative for the Web.

      If you want to run in the user’s native app environment, it is not too much for the user to ask you to let them pay with their 1-click iTunes account which is available in that environment. The fact is, users like that so much, that even after you give up 30% to Apple, you still make more money than you would on the Web, where nobody wants to pay for anything, and where the reaching for the credit card is a hurdle that is very hard to get the user to overcome.

    2. Think about what you are saying. No matter what store sells your product, no matter what it is, the store owner is going to mark up the price of your product. That’s how they make money and stay in business. I don’t know why people assume Apple should provide a store that has no way to make money. Apple takes 30% (low for a retail store) to provide visibility to your app to millions of people all over the world, to provide fast, easy and risk-free credit card processing, and a slew of other benefits. If you put your product in Best Buy or Wal-Mart, do you think you’d make 100% of the price on the shelf? Do you think that when you buy a CD on Amazon or a book on Barnes and Noble, that 100% of that money goes to the record or book company? Don’t be naive. Why would anyone in the world expect anyone to have a store that doesn’t make any money. I mean really, what would make you even think that makes sense?

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