August 7, 2017 Last Updated 1:40 pm

They’re back! After six year absence, Financial Times releases new app into Apple’s App Store

In 2011, the financial newspaper had their app pulled by Apple because it linked to the paper’s website in order to sell subscriptions, rather than going through the App Store — now they are back with an app where existing readers must log in to access the content

The decision to give up on the Apple App Store by the Financial Times was a big deal back in 2011. Many publishers saw this as the right move, while others thought it made little sense to stay out of what seemed to others to be the next big thing. The decision has been interpreted many ways — mostly wrongly, in my opinion — but a lot has changed in the last six years and today the Financial Times is once again back in the App Store with its own branded app.

The FT’s problem with Apple’s began early, even before the release of the iPad in April of 2010. According to a report in the financial newspaper, “newspapers publishers are leery of dealing with Apple in negotiating deals for their new iPad. Apple’s policy of safeguarding consumer data is supposedly preventing some publishers from completing deals with Apple,” TNM wrote in February of 2010.

FT: “Is it a dealbreaker? It’s pretty damn close,” said one senior media executive of a US metropolitan daily newspaper.

There were really two issues: data and sales. Apple has always wanted to protect the personal information of their customers and so did not want to share that data with publishers, even when they bought a subscription or single issue through the App Store. The second issue was where they bought that subscription or single issue, in had to be in the App Store said Apple, not through a link from an app back to the publisher’s website. Apple wanted that 30 percent fee, and some publishers felt that was too much.

So, there was a split in thinking among publishers, some wanted new readership and didn’t mind only getting 70 percent of the cover price (especially since they had long had to pay distributors of their print products), while others thought it was too high a price to pay for attaining readers that they really didn’t know.

Like many publishers, the Financial Times launched an app into the Apple App Store when the iPad was first released, but they stubbornly resisted Apple developer rules, launching an app that asked the reader to subscribe through their own website. Apple objected and threatened to pull their app.

So, the FT launched a web app in June of 2011 and referred readers to that digital solution.

“We have launched a new, faster, more complete app for the iPad and iPhone which is available via your browser rather than from an app store,” the paper said in June of 2011. “We’re encouraging our readers to switch immediately to the new FT web app, as many new features and sections will be added over the coming weeks. Make sure you don’t miss out on these updates.”

Then the FT updated its existing iPad app to make a reader app, one had to already have a subscription to use it, or — and this would end up being the final straw with Apple — they could follow a link to the FT website where they could subscribe.

Apple, at the end of August of 2011, had had enough and pulled the Financial Times app once and for all.

Much water has pasted under the bridge since August of 2011. In November of that year Apple launched the Newsstand, and circulation reports immediately began to reflect the new digital readership. But by sometime in 2012 Apple knew there were going to be issues with the Newsstand as their own reminder notices encouraged readers to cancel their digital subscriptions. By the end of 2013, the Apple App Store team gave up on the Newsstand category and stopped maintaining the subcategories. Publishers noticed the drop off and many stopped believing in the possibilities of digital editions. The unreadable PDF replica became the norm.

The Newsstand then went away and was replaced by the Magazines & Newspapers category, though the App Store team still showed little interest in working with publishers to make it an effective distribution tool.

In July of 2015 Pearson sold off the Financial Times to Nikkei Inc. for £844 million.

Now, in August of 2017, the FT is back in the App Store with a new universal app.

In the end, the newspaper did want it could have easily done back in 2011, just make the app a reader app where one has to sign into their existing account. And don’t flaunt Apple’s developer rules by linking to a subscription page outside the app.

So, did the FT cave? did Apple win this one? No to both questions.

The Financial Times was always going to be able to get readers to pay through their website because it exists in the one category where paywalls have proven to work: financial news.

If a readers feels they have a financial interest in subscribing to your newspaper, they will do so.

I was once the publisher of a daily (5-day-a-week) newspaper with McGraw-Hill that served the construction industry in Northern California. Want to know what a subscription costs? $1,811 annually when I left. Why would someone pay that? Because it was the price that had to be paid to get the latest construction bid news. No news, no business, it was that simple.

A subscription to the FT for both print and digital costs $11.77 a week (that’s $612 a year), though the paper is offering a digital subscription at $4.79 a week, and I am sure many think it is worth it (or they can write off the expense on their taxes).

So, why launch an app? For same reason I said the FT should have stayed in the App Store back in 2011: it is real estate for advertising.

“Our focus is subscriptions, but we do make money from advertising so we do care,” Cait O’Riordan, Chief Product and Information Officer, told rival the WSJ. “We have put some effort into ensuring we have good ad viewability, and there are some ad formats that are easier to do in a native app,”

But Apple didn’t cave either. In the end, the FT is back in, and playing by the rules.

But Apple is the big loser, at the same time. Their inability to play nice with publishers in the sandbox eventually led publishers to give up on Apple. Sure, everyone has an app, everyone is in Apple News, etc. But in 2011 there were lots of publishers who could imagine a future where their readers came mostly through Apple devices and it benefited everyone. Not now. Few publishers actually make much money working with Apple, the tech company has been too insular and unwilling to work with them.

And virtually no one trusts Apple to the degree they did in 2010-11. Back then, one could imagine a scenario where their businesses were built around their digital editions found inside the App Store. The closes anyone really has come is La Presse in Montreal, but really they are counting on the web, not Apple, for most of their readership, and all of their revenue.

Note: The Financial Times Ltd., the company’s developer account, has not been completely absent from the App Store. The company has several apps for the Chinese edition of the FT, as well as app for Investors Chronicle.

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