FT expected to be primarily a digital mobile product by 2016

The Financial Times, having spent the vast majority of the last 124 years as a printed business newspaper, will soon mainly be consumed on smartphones and tablets, according to digital leader Rob Grimshaw.

The managing director of FT.com called the shift to mobile “bigger in magnitude than the switch from print to desktop”, and added that the pace of change in consumption habits is happening faster.

He said: “My best guess is that mobile will be the lead channel for delivery within three to four years. Who knows, that could turn out to be conservative, this is moving at such speed.”

Mobile already accounts for 25% of FT.com’s traffic and is said to be driving between 15%-20% of all new subscriptions. The mobile shift comes despite the publisher famously walking out of Apple’s iTunes last year, having decided Apple’s 30% cut and unwillingness to share subscriber data did not make good business sense.

The digital leader told me the decision to ditch Apple’s iTunes in favour of its groundbreaking HTML5 apps had been “a wholly positive experience”, claiming the FT’s iPad and iPhone traffic has since continued to increase by 70% and its HTML5 app has attracted 3.3 million users.

He admitted current relationships with Apple remain “frosty” but did leave the door open for the future.

“We are pragmatists,” he said.”The reality is, the best possible world allows us to have the maximum number of distribution points, but it’s not unconditional. The reason why we’re not on iTunes is because we think their terms are bad for us. The reason why we’re in the Windows store and on Google play is because we think their terms are fine, and we will continue to operate like that.

“If iTunes were tomorrow to turn around and say actually we are only going to take 10% and you can have a direct relationship with your customer, we will probably look at that and say ‘that’s fine, that works for us’.”

Read my interview with FT.com’s managing director Rob Grimshaw here