updated 10:20 pm EST, Fri November 18, 2011
Heavily customized mobile site scores big
Britain's Financial Times, which famously did an end-run around the App Store by launching a highly-customized mobile site and encouraging users to save the shortcut as a "web app," reports that it has hit one million users since the launch of the new site in June. The company says that it now sees 20 percent of total web views and 15 percent of new subscriptions coming from mobile devices. The HTML5-heavy site closely replicates the feel of a native app once users save the bookmark as an app icon on their iOS device.
While part of the FT's motivation comes from avoiding Apple's 30 percent "tariff" on subscriptions garnered through native apps, it has been reported that the company was more interested in retaining reader demographic data that Apple was unwilling to part with. Apple has repeatedly said it does not have any issue with publishers that want to take the route the Financial Times took, which has worked out well for the company -- readership is up almost 50 percent since mid-September, when the paper reported 700,000 users. Since the introduction of Newsstand, Apple has had little trouble attracting periodical publications to its App Store.
The FT is known for its particular old-school style on financial reporting and attracts a sizeable but still niche audience compared to more general-interest publications. The print circulation of the worldwide financial daily, at 381,000, is just under half of the paying digital subscriber base, and around 10 percent of the daily visitors to FT.com.
The Financial Times says readers who access the paper via a mobile browser are more engaged than traditional readers, more likely to leave feedback on articles and 2.5 times more likely to subscribe than traditional readers. Users also read about three times more content on mobile devices than they do using desktop or notebook computers, the company said.
The use of HTML5 means that the paper is continuously and automatically updated without having to upgrade a native application. The company says it is working on a native Android app, but has not announced any timetable -- since the web-based app approach is already compatible with Android and other smartphone and tablet platforms, and the Android platform has yet to make a significant dent in overall mobile web traffic.
One particularly interesting difference in readership between computer users and mobile device users showed that those accessing the site's special mobile URL tended to read the paper mostly in the early morning and in the evening after work, whereas desktop users tended to access the site during work hours. FT's subscription option, unlike its competitors, uses a one-price-all-access model that provides readers with both paper and online access using a single login.