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For traditional publishers, the Apple has been a blessing and a curse. On one hand, its iOS devices, including the iPad, have created hope and inspired thought about the future of publishing. On the other hand, it's clear that it is no savior.
It's not into charity either. Case in point: the 30% cut Apple demands from subscriptions sold in iOS apps. Begrudgingly, many publishers have agreed to this fee. But not all.
It didn't have to sacrifice much in doing so. According to Rob Grimshaw, FT.com's managing director, "There isn't a single feature in the native app we haven't been able to replicate in the Web app." So why are other traditional publishers not doing the same thing? There are four primary reasons.
The FT brand is strong
One of the challenges in building a successful mobile website (as opposed to an app) is that your users have to remember that you exist. If they don't, and they don't add your website to their home screen, they'll likely forget about your website.
Since native apps are given a higher profile in the iOS interface, building a native app is highly desirable to those who don't have strong brands. The FT doesn't have that problem.
People pay for the FT
While many newspapers are still at square one (trying to figure out how to convince consumers to shell out for their content), the FT already has a solid base of paying customers.
Because its customers are paying, they're again more likely to visit the FT website on their iOS devices. After all, they want to get what they're paying for.
The FT is multichannel
Unlike many traditional publishers, the FT has successfully executed a multichannel strategy. That means that it isn't reliant on one channel (particularly a nascent one like mobile) and it can enter new channels more confidently than other publishers.
The FT is not desperate
At the end of the day, the FT's position means it doesn't have to play by Apple's rules. Will it lose sales by not doing so? Perhaps. But if strategically, the company doesn't believe that long-term control is worth sacrificing for short-term gain, it has the luxury of doing its own thing.
Already, we're seeing that Apple is rethinking some of its rules around in-app subscriptions. The publishers that can hold out the longest may yet end up with a deal that makes the App Store more enticing.
The lesson in all this: traditional publishers operating from a position of strength have far more flexibility than their less fortunate counterparts.
Sure, there's some risk in a mobile strategy that avoids native apps. That's where most of the action has been, is, and likely will be for some time. But a 30% revenue share with Apple raises a significant barrier to financial success for publishers looking at iOS devices as potentially powerful distribution platforms. Ironically, that's just as true for the strongest publishers as it is for the weakest.