Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Financial Times has its apps pulled by Apple from the App Store due to rules violations involving links

In the insular world of tech and media everything is a big deal. Sometimes the navel gazing ends up leading to some pretty bad decisions – but even those bad decisions are probably not as important as you might think.

Take the news that the Financial Times has had its apps pulled from the iTunes App Stores. The business paper has been a good example of the kinds of apps that can succeed on mobile devices and tablets.

But the apps ran afoul of the Apple rules that state that not only must subscriptions, if sole directly through the app, must go through the App Store, but that no direct links can go from the app to any outside purchasing site. Simply put: either your app is a "reader" app (that is, like the Netflix app, only of use to customers who have signed up outside the reading device), or else the customer buys the service through the App Store. It is simple to understand, but then again media people are not proving to be the brightest, are they?

The FT iPad app's outside link to buy a subscription
ran afoul of the App Store rules.

So the FT got huffy puffy and would not comply, even launching their own web app version and pointing readers in that direction. Apple got huffy puffy when it finally decided to pull the apps. This is a big deal, right? No.

As anyone who has launched an app will tell you, the biggest number of downloads come quickly when the app is first launched, then there is a trickle. For the Financial Times, they are banking on the hope that future iPad buyers will figure out how to access the FT through the web app and that digital subscriptions will continue to grow.

If not, they can always comply with Apple's rules and modify their apps. Not complying is not the same as never complying.

The FT now directs iPad readers
to their new web app.

For Apple, the acts of one media company is hardly a pressing matter. I would believe that while there were discussions internally about apps such as the FT's the matter was decided when someone said plainly 'well, if they won't comply, boot their apps'. And that was that. With Apple's app review team no decision is really final, as many developers can attest. These things are not done by machines, there really are people there, even if they are sometimes way too anonymous.

Unfortunately, the way these issues are covered one would think that there are huge issues at stake in this situation. For instance, much has been made of Apple's refusal to just hand over customer information to media executives.

“We’ve had a series of very cordial conversations with Apple about how we see the world and how they see the world," Financial Times chief executive John Ridding told earlier this month. "We can each see where each other is coming from. That’s fine; you can’t always agree on everything. They fully understand what we would need to continue.”

But if customer information really is so important there is simply no reason that the FT app couldn't have complied with App Store rules and eliminated its links and forced readers to subscribe through the website, just as other apps do. Which company here is looking out for its customers and which is forcing customer to consume their product their way?

The issue of customer information has always been a red herring. As a publisher, ad director and circulation manager I know the importance of customer data, but I also know how that is usually acquired. Newsstand dealers to not acquire and hand over customer data; neither do paper boys. What publishers are really asking for is for Apple to hand over information their other partners are incapable of delivering, making the whole demand silly. As for Apple, well, its customers like its privacy policies, if you haven't noticed.

In the end, though, both parties are heading in the wrong direction. For the Financial Times, there is no reason that they couldn't have complied and still moved towards a web app strategy. Since their own data shows the dramatic growth of digital subscriptions achieved since the launch of the iPad one senses that this is an unnecessary ego trip.

As for Apple, they continue to show that they seriously need to add new executives to oversee both its media partnership efforts in regard to its iOS devices, as well as to its mobile ad team efforts – both are areas that appear weak and a bit out of touch. This is easily accomplished, once the company realizes that it has a problem with a part of its business that, frankly, is very small compared to the rest of the company.

And that, in the end, is what media folk have to come to grips with: they just aren't that important, they are not the big players they imagine – deal with it.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Strange way to go about growing your digital business, by pissing off your iPad readers. Oh well it's the way of old media.