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Financial Times Gives Apple the Bird (in an Understated British Way)

Publishers have developed a love/hate relationship with Apple (AAPL) and its iPad and iPhone. They love getting their digital versions in front of would-be subscribers. They hated giving up 30 percent on both single issue and subscription sales. But the Financial Times has decided to do something about it by spurning the entire notion of a standard iPad app and instead launching its phone/tablet edition in the Web browser itself.

By moving to standard Web browser technology that Apple, Google (GOOG), and Microsoft (MSFT) all claim to support, the FT has developed a true write once/run anywhere publishing app -- and one that neatly sidesteps Apple's onerous and expensive revenue-sharing and content requirements.

And if customers take to the new Web app in sizable numbers, the FT may find itself leading a stampede of publishers anxious to break ranks with Apple so they can regain control of both their revenue and customer information that's crucial to their marketing strategies.

Given that Apple only yesterday announced its iOS Newsstand, the timing of the FT's announcement is pointed:

"We are determined to make it as accessible as possible for the user," John Ridding, chief executive of the FT told Reuters. "Readers will be able to get our journalism through whatever device or channel they may choose."
And Apple won't be able to exercise as much control over the publisher as it now can. The benefits to the FT are significant:
  • All money from customers come directly to it, without having to share with Apple.
  • Working in HTML 5 in theory allows the company to more efficiently make content available to readers.
  • Apple can't exert control over any content.
  • The FT can get changes into place quickly, without having to wait for Apple's approval to distribute an app through the App Store.
  • Customers sign up directly with the publisher, which captures their personal information and doesn't share it with Apple.
That's why the FT plans to encourage Apple customers to move from its iOS app to the new HTML 5 version. The FT also says that the app has a number of features unavailable in the iOS version, including:
  • greater speed
  • more content for iPad users
  • video
  • continual and instant updates
  • offline reading with automatic downloads
  • an improved smartphone design
Not that all the claims are necessarily true. According to the MediaFile blog at Reuters, the original iOS app is often faster than the new HTML one.

Part of the push is due to Apple's planned change in its subscription policy. At the end of June, the company plans to start taking the 30 percent cut of subscription revenues and to hold the customer data.

It's a risky proposition. The FT sees 15 percent of its digital subscription growth from iPhone and iPad users alone. Apple might kick the app off the App Store, and representation there is important for businesses. People can quickly pick, buy, and load an app, maximizing the gain from impulse purchases. Companies have been concerned that moving to Web-based apps would discourage customers.

Nevertheless, publishers often have an established relationship with consumers. Readers might not find a separate purchase a particularly big hurdle. Or it could be that the FT could create a less fully-featured iOS app to snag limited subscriptions for more casual business and then hope to convert them to a fuller HTML 5 version. Whatever happens, expect other publishers to pay close attention to see if they can get the Apple monkey off their backs.


Image: courtesy, the Financial Times