As glamorous as the world of app development may seem to some, it nevertheless receives its fair share of rainy days and crisis storms as the rest of us. From struggling with app store optimization (ASO) to being caught up in free offers with certain distributors, app developers aren’t always as ‘appy as can be.
Selling Through Amazon
What happened to the android development company Shifty Jelly is a good case in point. They, unfortunately, got caught up in Amazon’s ‘Free App Of The Day’ promotion with their podcast managing app Pocket Casts. On that fateful day Amazon managed to ‘sell’ a total of 101,491 downloads. Amazon, of course, pay developers 20% of the asking price of an app – and so Shifty Jelly got a whopping 20% of nothing.
Now, this may seem like good publicity for the app and for the developer itself, but, when you take into account that on the previous day the app was downloaded only 20 times, you can see how any promise of future meaningful sales was completely absorbed by the free giveaway. And, to make matters worse, Pocket Casts relies on a server to parse podcast feeds – the sudden influx of new users meant that the company had to update their hardware, which they now have to continuously support at their own cost. The upshot being, the company made a loss over it all.
The whole experience led Shifty Jelly to publicly outline some other concerns they had with Amazon’s App Store.
- Amazon sets the price of the app to whatever it wants, and you have no option to review or even reject the price.
- Amazon rewrites the app’s description, sometimes, according to ZDNet, getting the details completely wrong.
- Amazon seems to drag its heels when issuing payment, and don’t provide error reports for the developer, making it very hard to identify and fix any problems users are having.
Another developer has pointed out the frustration that users experience of having to keep the Amazon App Store on your phone if you want to keep using the apps that you have downloaded from it. If you remove the app store then the apps stop working properly, a report from Business Insider claims. This is very frustrating for anyone who has ever used Amazon’s App Store, and frustrated customers are never good for business.
And small app developers already have the odds stacked against them. Discoverability is the main issue, which is why Shifty Jelly got on board with the ‘Free App of the Day’ promotion in the first place. Of course, they weren’t expecting the foray to result in a loss – and, to be fair to Amazon, GIGAOM does report that Amazon did clearly indicate in writing that the app developer would not earn any revenue for sales on that day – but, what they were expecting, and indeed what they got, was exposure.
Risk is Placed Entirely on the Developer
As you might expect, Pocket Caster did receive a noted increase in the amount of customer reviews as a direct result of the promotion – and reviews are of course essential for app store optimization. But, unfortunately the buzz didn’t last, and eventually the app sales settled back down to where they were before the promotion.
Amazon place all the risk on the developer for promotions of this nature, and indeed, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by running the ventures. Free app giveaways inevitably bring people back to the store, and it costs Amazon nothing to support them. True, getting your app featured on such a promotion is great way to increase awareness of the product and the company, but whether or not the developer comes out ahead in the long run is uncertain. Amazon, however, always come out on top.
It is of course not just Amazon’s app store that call the shots in this way. Apple’s App Store and Google Play also set predetermined rules and regulations that app developers can either adhere to or go elsewhere – and the other option is to go it alone, and try and sell the app direct from a website, which of course makes the task of marketing and discoverability even more challenging.
People shop for apps in app stores – of course they do, it’s just the way it is. And so the big players make the terms and developers can either like it or lump it.
Android or iOS?
Android, reports Christine Erickson in Mashable, has so many different versions of its operating system that it can be a complicated decision over which one to build the app for. At least with iOS you only have to think about one, but that nonetheless can cause a real headache for the developer if you think that your app is most suited to an Android audience and want to launch there first.
Small developers may find themselves subsisting on very few customers, and so, when those customers email for update requests they can be quite difficult to ignore. But the problem comes over deciding whether or not or which ones to implement. Perhaps half of your customers want a particular feature update, but the other half would prefer the app to remain just as it is. How do you decide which way to go? You want to show that you are listening to feedback and that your app is as up-to-date as is humanly possible, but you of course don’t want to annoy any of your existing audience. There is no easy answer, and, as with most things, in the end it will be a judgement call.
Being an app developer is certainly a fun, creative and original occupation, but there are, as with everything, a few things that you have to contend with along the way. You have to play by the rules of the distributors, indeed sometimes at your own risk, but it can be the only means of attaining the exposure that you covet.
Android or iOS is the everlasting chicken or egg question, and keeping your customers happy with appropriate updates is a struggle in itself. But, producing quality apps that are being used widely by satisfied customers is the end goal, and so as long as that is your constant focus, any obstacles along the way should just be adding to the fun of it.