Launching today, Blink is a new Universal iOS app from Squibner that quickly generates affiliate links for content from the App Store, Mac App Store, iTunes Store and iBooks Store. If you’re a member of the iTunes affiliate program you’ll know that you don’t want to be manually editing iTunes links with your own token and campaign tag – Blink automates that process on iOS, making it quick and effortless.
A Brief Introduction to Affiliate Links
Before I continue, a quick introduction to the world of affiliate linking for those that are unaware. Essentially, anyone can register for the iTunes affiliate program and they will receive their own affiliate token (a series of letters and numbers). If they generate an iTunes URL that includes this affiliate token and share that link with others that click on it, they will receive a (small) percentage of any iTunes sales that flow from any clicks. For many small and independent sites, such affiliate programs are a valuable source of income (and yes, MacStories uses affiliate links). Apple’s website has more details if you’d like to learn more about the technical details of affiliate linking and perhaps even sign up.
When Greg Gardner, an independent developer based in San Francisco, released Launcher for iOS last year, he didn’t think his handy utility would make headlines around tech blogs and push other developers to approach widgets for iOS 8 differently. And yet, after months of not being available on the App Store despite being originally approved in September 2014, Launcher is about to be covered (and used as an example) by the press again. Launcher has been re-approved by Apple, and it’s coming back to the App Store today with the same feature set from six months ago.
Last night, Apple and Pinterest announced a new collaboration that will see Apple curating app picks on the service, which has gained new special app pins with Install buttons. I can’t help but wanting to know more whenever the App Store and curation are involved; plus, I’ve been keeping an eye on Pinterest, and I find this new partnership fascinating.
Apple has started promoting games that don't have any In-App Purchases on the front page of the App Store. Currently featured in the UK App Store and likely expanding to the U.S. store later today as part of the App Store's weekly refresh, the section is called 'Pay Once & Play' and it showcases “great games” that don't require users to pay for extra content through IAPs.
The section is organized in Recent Releases, Blockbuster Games, and App Store Originals. The games included vary in terms of popularity and developer: Apple is promoting indie hit Thomas Was Alone under Blockbuster Games alongside Minecraft, but they're also showcasing award-winning Threes, Leo's Fortune, and Blek.
Over the past few years, Apple has dealt with numerous complaints and investigations over the nature of freemium games and how they were advertised as free downloads while effectively hiding major gameplay features behind In-App Purchases. The company brought a series of changes to the way freemium games were displayed on the App Store – it added a specific label to indicate IAPs, and then changed the button to download freemium games from “Free” to “Get”.
It's unclear whether the new section will be regularly updated or become a permanent fixture of the App Store's front page, but it's a good sign as it shows an interest in promoting quality game experiences that don't follow typical (and lucrative but potentially confusing) freemium trends.
Here at MacStories we write about apps. A lot. Many of those we write about, perhaps even most, are created by individuals and small teams. And typically, those hard-working individuals remain unknown to the public who just know an app as something they use. Today we want to bring a bunch those indie developers to the forefront.
I wasn’t sure exactly where it would lead, but last month I asked on Twitter for independent developers to @ reply me and say hi. Amplified by retweets by Federico and many others, I got dozens and dozens of replies, ultimately totalling just under 200 responses. That’s both a pretty huge number (trust me, it was a time consuming process documenting them all) and also incredibly tiny (there are around 250,000 active developers and over a million apps for sale).
It would be completely ridiculous to perform any kind of analysis on such a small sample size, but it was nonetheless great to have a relatively varied spread of developers from all over the world (illustrated in the above graphic). But more valuable was the list of developers and their Twitter accounts. So I’ve created a Twitter list that includes every developer that @ replied me. We’ve also included the full table of every developer we collated, links to their apps, location and Twitter account (see below). Please note that developers and apps shown in the full list does not mean they are endorsed by me, Federico or MacStories. If a developer met some very minimal criteria, they were included.
Charles Perry of Metakite Software spent some time digging through the Overcast sales and rankings data (provided by Marco Arment last week) and extrapolated some interesting findings about the distribution of App Store income:
At the top of the long tail, in position 871 on the U.S. Top Grossing list, an app still makes over $700 in revenue per day. That’s almost $260,000 per year. Even number 1,908 on the U.S. Top Grossing list makes over $100,000 per year. In fact all apps above number 3,175 on the U.S. Top Grossing list produce enough revenue to at least make its developer the United States household median income for 2014 ($53,891).
That's the good news, because the bad news is that there are well over a million apps for sale and the earnings quickly fall as you go down the rankings. But Perry also makes the important point that many indie developers have multiple apps for sale simultaneously which can make a big difference.
So, with even fewer people than I expected making “yacht and helicopter money” in the App Store, I remain hopeful for my fellow developers. There’s a lot money circulating in the ecosystem, and a developer operating at indie scale only needs a little bit of it. It seems that even with the revenue curve tilted so heavily towards the big hits, the shape of the App Store still allows room for sustainable businesses to develop in the long tail. It seems that developers who work hard, mind the details, and treat their business like a business have a real chance of making it.
Keep in mind that Perry's conclusions are extrapolated from just the one data source, being Overcast. I'd be interested to see if the sales and rankings patterns from other apps fit along Perry's curve.
[via Hosam Hassan]
Speaking of sales numbers, a must-read article by Marco Arment on how Overcast did on the App Store in 2014:
The biggest unknown in the App Store is what happens after the launch has settled down. I don’t know what 2015 will bring, or where sales will bottom out. (With past apps, February was always my worst month, and not just because it has fewer days.) Promisingly, sales in the last 6 months have stayed within a fairly narrow range and aren’t showing a clear downward trend, although the bumps in November and December can be easily attributed to temporary boosts from Serial and Christmas.
Marco worked on Overcast full-time for about 15 months. Apple made $70,343 from Overcast in 2014.
Overcast is a fantastic podcast player that does things other podcast apps can't do. Marco found a niche big enough to sustain a business and managed to build a product that is useful and commercially viable. I believe that Overcast is a great example of how innovation in apps can still be possible and profitable.
And I can only nod in agreement at the last sentences:
I can work in my nice home office, drink my fussy coffee, take a nap after lunch if I want to, and be present for my family as my kid grows up. That’s my definition of success.
I'm always interested in learning how the App Store market is working out for indie developers and small studios. Over the last few days, we got a glimpse into the business of iOS games thanks to numbers and stats shared by the developers of two quality titles – Crossy Road and Monument Valley.
Crossy Road implements a freemium model and it has grossed over a million dollars with ads. The developers used video ads in an effective way:
“I played Disco Zoo and thought that video ads were a really good way to earn money without getting into people’s faces. We just needed to figure out a fun reason for players to watch them”. In the game, watching ads earns coins. Players can use coins to buy new characters that hop across the endless dangerous road in new and often hilarious ways. But it’s also possible to simply buy them with real money or just collect coins in the game.
Monument Valley, on the other hand, is an excellent premium game that allows players to download extra levels as additional purchases (the so-called paymium model). In a widely popular post, ustwo shared the numbers behind the game. Most notably:
- 2.4M official sales, 1.7M of which on iOS
- 575k upgrades to Forgotten Shores
- $5.8M in revenue, 81.7% of which on iOS
The numbers, however, also include more specific and interesting stats such as the number of players who completed the game (lower than I expected) and sales by country. I find it illuminating to see the effects of Forgotten Shores and Christmas compared to winning an Apple Design Award or releasing the game on Android.
Crossy Road and Monument Valley are two profoundly different games. Monument Valley had a big budget (for an indie production), a moderately large team, and it reaped well-deserved rewards. Crossy Road uses freemium mechanics with a unique twist, respecting the user's time and commitment to the game. In both cases, they are quality games, and two examples of the multifaceted (and crowded) App Store market.
Well, I think a lot of us are out there, quietly doing just fine. HoursTracker had its best year ever in 2014, and five years of best ever years before that. If you can solve an important problem in a way that resonates with a sizable group of people, you can find success. There’s always room for a fresh take on an already well-served problem, too.
We often hear about the frustrations of indie developers who are trying to make a living on the App Store, which has essentially become the default narrative for many (I often talk about this topic, too). Carlos Ribas, developer of HoursTracker, has a good article about the opposite scenario and how he managed to turn his app into a profitable business. Well worth a read to get a fresh and different perspective, and a good reminder that there are indie developers who are doing fine after years on the App Store.