Today Jared Sinclair stirred up quite a frenzy by way of blog post about the sales of his RSS app, Unread (which is fantastic). Jared Sinclair:
Despite all of these circumstances, Unread still only earned $42K in sales ($21K after taxes and expenses) and is on a course that doesn’t promise much growth. I conclude from all this that anyone who wants to make a satisfying living as an independent app developer should seriously consider only building apps based on sustainable revenue models.
His post was eye opening in how little a very popular app makes in the App Store these days. And he is not alone as he was joined by a chorus of other developers talking about what they make, and/or how to make money, as a ‘indie’ developer.
We, the aspiring indies, need to keep in mind that being independent is a great privilege. It is a largely unattainable goal for most careers.
If you want to maximise your profitability, make small apps that do a few things well. The amount of effort you put into an app has very little to do with how much of the market will buy it. This means that making big apps exposes you to substantially more risk, which is not fairly counterbalanced by significantly higher earnings potential.
It was, in other words, a rather somber day for those of us that love high quality apps.
Without good money coming in, developers can’t make the kind of apps they want to make, which in turn, drives the price further into the ground and hurts the ecosystem as a whole.
How Stephen, how does it hurt the ecosystem as a whole? Luckily TechCrunch is to the rescue on answering that. Sarah Perez:
The number one game in the iTunes App Store is a game about selling weed. Yes, really. The app, “Weed Firm,” however, looks brilliant when compared to what comes next: it sits just above yet another fairly dumb, time-waster of a game called “100 Balls,” reminiscent of beer pong. And that’s followed “Toilet Time,” which offers you quick games to play while you…um…go, as well as “Make It Rain,” which tests to see how fast you can swipe to make the money fly.
Oh, fuck me.
That’s the state of the store.
Good, well made, and useful apps make no money for the developers, and shitty pieces of shit make money for people who only care about making money and not about making excellent apps.
This is, quite literally, why we cannot have nice apps.
There’s a downside to this beyond just the vague feeling that it’s a shame that iOS developers have to supplement their incomes — it’s that any rational developer aware of the economics will not be able to make as big an investment in iOS apps as they would if they could expect their effort would be rewarded.
There is some hope to all of this though. As Tyler Hall points out:
It took five years for me to gain semi-stable financial independence. That’s something that I worry most iOS developers with indie dreams don’t appreciate.
Well, it’s my experience that you CAN build a sustainable software business selling to consumers as an independent developer. You just can’t do it in the App Store any longer – if you ever could.
The laundry list of complaints about the App Store is well documented, and well complained about. But here is real, telling, evidence that the system is broken.
Flat out: the App Store doesn’t work. It solves the problem of trust — trust that the app won’t do anything overtly malicious when you install it. It solves the problem of ease — it has never been easier to buy an app.
But none of that solved the problem of revenue, because developers need these things to make money:
- Exposure (App Store does this well)
- Trials (App Store fails)
- Upgrade pricing to convert current customers into paying customers again (App Store fails)
- Demographics, so they know who is buying that app and therefore who to not only market to, but build features for (App Store mostly fails)
- Easily respond to feedback, not to game ratings, but to help customers (App Store fails)
There’s more, but that’s the short list. It’s insane to think about how broken the App Store is. At least on the Mac we have the option of buying outside of it, but we are fucked on iOS. We cannot buy outside the App Store, so we have no choice but to play by the same shitty rules that developers have to play by, when a great many of us truly want to see those developers succeed.
Seriously, Apple launched the App Store with no mechanism for Trials and Upgrades and we all just though “Meh, that’s fine.” Turns out, we screwed over everything by accepting that.
I love iOS and all these apps, but once we lose the good developers, we’ll lose the good apps. And then we’ll lose the platform.