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When the Financial Times (FT) decided in July 2011 to ignore Apple’s Newsstand in favor of making their own HTML5 app, the news raised a lot of eyebrows. Some praised the move as a bold challenge to Apple’s hegemony while others called it a naive and potentially suicidal denial of the realities of modern media consumption. By July 2012 the results of the gamble were clear as total subscriptions to the FT rose 6% and the number of digital subscribers to the FT eclipsed print customers and now make up more than half of the company’s nearly 600,000 paying customers.
The FT, founded in 1888, has been around the block. They’ve operated in every conceivable business environment and clearly asked themselves about our current one, “What are we getting for Apple’s 30% cut from our app sales?” Conventional wisdom would say, “you have to be where people go to shop, i.e. the App Store.” In another era, people said the same thing about the mall. Remember those?
Now don’t get us wrong. There is potential value in being in front of tens of millions of consumers. Though the “in front of part” is a bit misleading. When is the last time you ventured past the Top 10 Lists on the App Store? Or, to go a bit off topic, checked out the second page of search results on Google? If anything, big numbers – number of visitors, number of apps – makes “content discovery”, as well as selling, potentially harder not easier.
But buying through Apple and Amazon and the like is so convenient. Again, a valid point. Tinypass is all for reducing friction in the purchase process, but at the cost of 30% of a content owner’s revenues? Clearly the FT looked at the tradeoff and said, “no thank you.”
So, what to do? You can lock into a single model, i.e. Apple, and handover 30% of the value of your content, or you can embrace a strategy that includes the entire landscape of distribution vehicles, from walled gardens to the open web. This ubiquity of distribution is what new technologies like HTML5 and Tinypass are built to enable. Your greatest content discovery strategy is your own brand, your own site, not a store that you share with millions of other competing offers. Fans come to your site(s) everyday. Don’t send them away to purchase your best offers. Sell direct and reap the rewards.