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FT, You’re Missing the Point With Your HTML 5 iPad Web App (an open letter to FT.com)

FT. Don’t get me wrong. I know what you are trying to do here with your HTML 5 web app. It’s actually pretty slick, and delivers on a lot of the promises about HTML 5 that I’ve been hearing lo these many years.

You want to go around Apple’s 30% subscription cut, I get it. But you are missing the point–unless of course you just want to give current FT subscribers another way to get their news. But don’t you want to grow your online subscription base?

FT.com's cutting edge blunder

I’d venture to guess that way, way, way less than 1% of current iPad owners happen to also pay for access to FT.com. As long as you are going out of your way to format the news for a tablet, why not make a stunning app that can be part of Apple’s new Newsstand?

Oh, that’s right, you still want to hold on to that >1% of iPad owners who pay for access without giving Apple a 30% cut.

Here’s the thing though. How many iPad users are going to organically stumble upon your web app, decide that yes, they want access to this, reach into their back pockets, pull out their credit cards, fill out the registration forms by tick-tack-typing on their iPads one field at a time, wait for the confirmation email, create a username and password and then finally access the content? Maybe you’ll get a dozen or so new users this way?

Or let’s look at this alternative scenario, in a universe where the FT was part of the iPad’s Newsstand app.

iPad user John, who like many iPad owners is affluent, opens up the Newsstand app, which was pre-installed on his iPad with iOS 5. When he opens the app, he sees the FT prominently featured. He clicks on it, glances at the screenshots and decides “Yes. I want this.” The decision to give you money is complete. Now John must execute.

Step 1: He presses the Subscribe button
Step 2: He authorizes the purchase by entering his password
Step 3: There is no step 3

Don’t you see that users could care less if they get to your content by opening up either Safari or the Newsstand app? Unless the process at the Point-of-Sale is frictionless, who knows how many new conversions you are foregoing. Not to mention the problem of discoverability. Sure, you got some good PR when you launched this web app, but how much will you spend just to market it?

Chances are, if you had made a native iPad app, you’d be a regular in the Top 10 most subscribed to newspapers, always up there with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Being in that top list, not to mention the requisite times that you are featured outright by Apple, are free, hugely effective ways to market your properties to new users. Since the Newsstand app (after iOS 5 formally debuts in the Fall) will be installed by default and un-deletable on millions of iPads, that is a built in audience of affluent people with their credit cards one click away.

Yes, it may hurt to give Apple 30% and miss out on all that juicy subscriber data, but by bowing out of Apple’s ecosystem, FT, you are missing a huge opportunity to grow your digital subscribers. Like it or not, Apple’s channel has become like the WalMart of digital content–if you plan to sell physical merchandise en masse without having a SKU in WalMart, good luck.

Hold on to that extra 30% you’re getting from existing online subscribers. If this is indicative of your digital strategy for the next decade, I think you’ll need it.

14 replies on “FT, You’re Missing the Point With Your HTML 5 iPad Web App (an open letter to FT.com)”

word on the street is that they’re still negotiating w/ Apple. the 30% is less an issue, key here is that they want/need your address to let advertisers better know subscriber demographics.

oh and Apple changed their ToS so they don’t NEED to take 30%, only catch is you’re not allowed to link to a web page where you can subscribe to a system other han the iTunes store.

Yea, as far as customer data goes, you can opt in to giving your info when prompted at first launch, and around 50% do so. That fact is what finally tipped Conde Nast (New Yorker, Wired) to finally give in.

Personally, if the FT can sort this mess out by the time iOS 5 launches, and with it Newsstand (the periodicals equivalent of iBooks), then I think they’re in a good position.

New terms of service go into on June 30th, so I’m sure the media will have a lot to say about this during that time and the FT will most certainly be brought up.

Doesn’t running on HTML5 mean it’s Android / WebOs / etc ready too, without the need for another app? (I’m not a techy, so may well be wrong!)

Doesn’t running on HTML5 mean it’s Android / WebOs / etc ready too, without the need for another app? (I’m not a techy, so may well be wrong!)

I think so. The web app itself is great. My only gripe is that the navigation bar/bookmark toolbar is ever present. 

But I agree with TOOLHEADNIN. This should be part of, or the foundation of a total mobile strategy

The FT have traditionally been right at the bleeding edge, leading the way.
How do you react to the concept that — yes — there’s some revenue to be
had from iPads and iPhones, but that the wider market is much much bigger
than iOS?

There is no bigger audience of people who will pay for digital content than iOS as a platform. HTML 5 should be supporting of their strategy (at least for now) in which a top shelf native app is there centerpiece IMHO

I don’t think the article is about technology leadership (that doesn’t pay the bills), but rather about choosing the most lucrative channels of distribution to generate actual revenue… 
Today’s market is not much bigger than iOS in terms of direct revenue. That might change eventually, but I wouldn’t forego iOS for the sake of tech leadership.

Michael –  this *is* part of a total mobile strategy, and one of a suite of products. Also the navigation bar/toolbar isn’t ever present – you just need to choose ‘add to home screen’ and then it will be openable exactly as a native app is.

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