Has the balance of power shifted? The Financial Times today launched a HTML5-enabled, web-based mobile app (release) that does everything its current native iOS iPad/iPhone apps do. The message to Apple – which has become vital to the business model of newspapers, magazines and broadcasters – is we don’t need you as much as you think we do.
The FT claims to be the first global media brand to launch a multi-platform web-based app and is making a song and dance about it. So here’s what I take away from the move: is it really such a big deal?
It’s my content and I’ll leave if I want to
When Apple announced a new subscription service (via Guardian.co.uk) for music, books, newspapers and magazines in February, the FT was quick to point out that if the terms were unfavourable, it would find an app distribution service elsewhere.
As part of those plans, Apple wants 30 percent of subscription revenue, it’s not going to allow publishers to link to cheaper subs offers elsewhere and customer sign-up data (and credit card details) are limited to publishers.
Majorie Scardino, CEO of the FT’s parent company Pearson, was clear: “There are many, many tablets coming out and multiple devices … (from) Kindle to mobiles. If indeed Apple are not happy to give us customer data then maybe we will get it somewhere else.”
Now the FT has gone somewhere else. The app looks neat, it works, I can plug into my existing subscription easy enough and there is good integration with multimedia and all the stuff you’d expect. Not everyone is impressed with the initiative and there have been teething problems but I spotted far more people talking online about the app in glowing terms, perhaps reflecting an apathy towards downloadable bits of software. Watch the expensive-looking advert from the FT:
Mobile web apps can do everything news apps need to do
The functionality of Apple’s developer kit gives app-makers more options, but reading the new FT web app I’m still able to read offline, post to Twitter, load my stock portfolio (just watching, not investing)… and what else do I need? We have go to the stage where web apps are almost undistinguishable from native platform-specific app store products.
FT.com’s MD Rob Grimshaw tell’s paidContent’s Robert Andrews: “We started off not knowing what could be achieved (in HTML)… But, one by one, we found that all the things that could be done in a native app actually could be done in a HTML5 app – and we haven’t had to compromise on anything, though we were expecting to.”
Plus, with its professional audience of BlackBerry-toting executives, the FT now has a web app that will soon be useable by all major handsets and tablets.
Has the distributor/publisher relationship shifted?
As Grimshaw tells paidContent he is still in talks with Apple on how the paper can work with Apple and possible stick around on the App Store in future, after the new subscription rules come into force on June 30. Has a blow been struck for publishers looking to dictate terms to Apple?
Some execs seem resigned to living within the iOS ecosystem whatever its negative points. Witness IPC Media boss Sylvia Auton and Bauer’s CEO Paul Keenan complaining at this year’s PPA conference (via Arif at Media Week) that Apple doesn’t give them the data they want.
“It’s down to us to invest in that conversation with Apple and persuade them that it will be a very good partnership approach to take,” says Keenan, to which Auton replies: “I can assure Paul we have spent a fair bit of time trying to persuade Apple of that very point.”
Neither was suggesting to leave Apple’s app store – they are more interested in lobbying Cupertino for more favourable terms. This is not a novel situation. As I said at theMediaBriefing’s Paywall Strategies 2011 conference, in five years we’ve gone from “Google is stealing our content” to “Apple is stealing our revenue”.
Might the FT give them some more courage?
Apple’s devices still matter
If the distribution model is bad, Apple still makes nice gadgets and sells millions of them. The iPad remains a critical device to all publishers, as is the iPhone. Rob Grimshaw told me last year that if he was starting from scratch – without the benefit of seven years as a paywalled publisher – then Apple’s platform wouldn’t seem so bad, even with the 30 percent revenue cut.
But as it is, the FT has a little bargaining room to play with.
Here’s my chat with him….
We’ll be talking about all these issues – apps, monetisation, the mobile web and HTML5 web apps – at Mobile Media Strategies 2011 on Tuesday 14 June.