Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The Financial Times Tries an Apple End-Run

The Financial Times, one of the most outspoken opponents of Apple’s new iTunes subscription rules, is now doing more than complaining: The publisher has created a Web-based app that lets it deliver the paper to iPad and iPhone users, and sell them subscriptions, without going through iTunes.

The move is important because:

  • It’s the first major attempt by a publisher to create an HTML5-based Web app that for all intents and purposes works exactly like an iTunes-purchased app.
  • It gives the FT a real alternative to iTunes if the FT doesn’t want to accept Apple’s subscription terms.

Apple’s subscription rules have rankled many content owners because they require them to hand over 30 percent of all subscription revenue, every month, for all “in-app” subscriptions sold through iPad and iPhone apps. Even more problematic for print publishers like Pearson’s FT is Apple’s insistence on keeping subscriber data like credit card information to itself.

But since Apple announced the new rules in February, a growing number of content companies, from the New York Times to MLB.com, have announced that they’ll accept them,

Some publishers, like Conde Nast and Hearst, have been able to wring small concessions out of Apple that give them a bit more flexibility, but the general gist remains the same; many content companies are now hoping that they’ll be able to convince most customers to subscribe to their content outside of iTunes, which will let them keep 100 percent of revenue and all subscriber data.

Apple’s deadline to accept the new terms kicks in later this month, and the FT has yet to declare if it’s going to play along. The FT, citing FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw (registration required), says the paper has “no plans to pull out of any apps store,” but that’s not the same as saying it plans to stick around, either. Note opening lines in the promotional video for the app’s, below: “The FT app is moving.”

Spokesman Tom Glover tells me the publisher is “still talking to Apple about the terms for selling subscriptions through iTunes.”

The Web app only works on iOS devices for now, but the paper says versions for Google’s Android platform are in the works. More technical details here.

UPDATE: The FT’s news reminds me that it’s a good time to check in with the Wall Street Journal, which like this Web site is owned by News Corp. The Journal, which has played up its success on Apple’s platform in the past, hasn’t said what it’s going to do about Apple’s subscription rules, and a spokeswoman says that hasn’t changed: “We’re exploring our options.”


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik