Financial Times Fights Apple on Access to Subscriber Data

Newspapers on the iPadThe Financial Times of London is fighting to maintain control over the customer relationship (meaning control of customer data), and does not want to give up that access to Apple for customers that subscribe to the newspaper through Apple’s subscription engine. Rob Grimshaw, the managing director of, told Reuters that his company is negotiating with Apple on this issue, and implied that he would leave Apple’s platform rather than give up this issue.

Apple added a subscription engine to the iOS software development kit (SDK) earlier this year, and the company requires that any publisher offering subscription access in an app include the ability to subscribe from within the app itself, meaning through Apple’s engine.

While publishers can continue to offer access via other avenues, Apple requires that the in-app subscription option meet or beat any other offer available, and Apple will not give publishers access to the customer data from those customers who sign up through the app.

“We don’t want to lose our direct relationship with our subscribers. It’s at the core of our business model,” Mr. Grimshaw told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

This has long been a festering sore spot with publishers who see that data as theirs by right, and consider it the bread and butter of their business. The Financial Times was an early (and solid) adopter to the iPad, and Reuters reported that the company has been able to increase its paying subscriber base from 440,000 during the print-only days to 590,000 with the help of its online presence and the iPad.

He told Reuters that is negotiating with Apple over the issue, and that he was hopeful that those negotiations would lead to a positive outcome. He even specified that, “We have a great relationship with Apple.”

But, and this is a big but, he also said, “If it turns out that one or another channel doesn’t mix with the way we want to do business, there’s a large number of other channels available to us.”

One channel, of course, for staying on the iPad would be to pull its app from the App Store, but continue to offer access to FT content through the Safari browser on the iPad. It would be a shame if the company’s app went away, however, as its iPad app has been very well received and is highly regarded.

That’s the only real alternative for being on the iPad, however, and no competing tablets have made any serious headway in the iPad-defined tablet market, which means the real question is going to be is it more important for to peddle its content through Apple’s App Store or for Apple to have premier newspapers like The Financial Times on its platform.

If the company gives an exception on this issue, that exception would quickly become the rule as other publishing powerhouses like News Corp’s The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Gannet’s USA Today, and other important newspapers are going to demand the same deal that gets.

The reality is that Apple isn’t known for blinking or being all that flexible, but the company has reversed itself on several issues as the iOS platform has quickly evolved and exploded in popularity. In other words, there could well be more to this story as time marches on.