Financial Times exec: iOS apps don’t work for publishers

robert andrews, tomas bella and rob grimshaw

It’s been close to a year since the Financial Times left the iTunes app store to launch a a web app for its paid content, and FT.com Managing Director Rob Grimshaw told the audience at GigaOM’s paidContent 2012 conference that this move has more than paid off. “It’s been a tremendous experience,” Grimshaw said, adding: “The audience didn’t shrink, it expanded.” He went on to say that FT.com’s mobile web app has seen more than two million users – more than FT.com ever saw for both of its iOS apps combined.

FT.com took the step after negotiations about in-app subscriptions broke down over Apple’s demands to take a hefty cut of the subscription fees. “We felt that the terms that Apple were offering were detrimental… to our business,” explained Grimshaw. Asked whether he lost a big promotional opportunity by leaving the iTunes store, he replied: “I don’t need Apple to tell the world the Financial Times is here. We’ve been here for 120 years.” He added that iOS apps don’t seem to be working for publishers, as they’re not bringing in enough revenue. Said Grimshaw: “I’m not sure it’s all that it’s cracked up to be.”

Grimshaw also shared some experiences with taking FT.com behind a paywall, which has been largely a success for the publisher, with now 285,000 people paying for access to the site. He said the biggest challenge early on wasn’t to find the right price point as much as to find the right mindset within the company: “Publishers are used to being B2B operators. We didn’t know our customers.”

Grimshaw was joined on the panel by Piano Media CEO Tomas Bella, whose company is operating a joint-industry payment platform that gives paying customers access to paid content across a wide variety of sites. Piano started off in Slovakia, but wants to be in a total of five markets by the end of the year. Bella said that his company’s approach works particularly well for smaller publishers who don’t offer as much value to their readers as a big entity like FT.com. “The system was created to lower the barrier to payment,” he explained.

Check out the rest of our coverage of paidContent 2012. Full archived video on livestream (registration required).

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