The 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.