How Much Money I Made on the App Store

appstore

Some time ago I began learning to develop iOS apps using Swift. It was a massive learning curve. Some quick takeaways:

  • The iOS framework is huge.
    I doubt it is possible for a single human being to be familiar with the whole thing.
  • There is no cross-over from typical web development.
    Things that seem so easy in web design are completely baffling in native iOS.
  • The rate of change that Apple keep pushing is exhausting.
    Even during my app development process of a few months, the Swift language changed – requiring significant changes to the code. And there were two iOS updates.
  • The smallest bugs can have you down a rabbit warren for hours if not days.
  • Stack Overflow became my new favorite website.

All that said it was immensely satisfying to write my own app, get it submitted to Apple, and live on the App Store.

Once up on the App Store I will confess to struggling with a lot of self-driven stress. I now had a product for sale and I felt a strong obligation to fix bugs as soon as they were found. And of course there were a few, and many a late night was spent poring over code.

The submission process is time-consuming. Each release would be in the review queue for at least a week. Creating the images for the store was a hassle. 5 images for each of 4 iPhone sizes. That’s 20 images, and if you change something in a new version you’re probably going to redo a lot of those images.

What About Sales and Revenue?

This was more than a hobby. I have a web-based business and this thing had to produce income at some point. I have people depending on me, and like many don’t have the luxury of spending endless hours indulging in pursuits that don’t end up as a viable business enterprise.

I charged 99c for the app.

Here are the app store views (per day). This is how many people looked at the app on the app store. From release date (May 4) until July 13.
views

Here are the actual sales.

sales

You can see that sales tend to follow a similar trend to app store views. The grey vertical lines represent a version release.

The first few days it was a rush. I was checking the app store reports morning and night – excited to see someone actually bought the app. Within a few days it hit 10 sales in one day. Little did I know but that was as good as it was going to get.

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Over the following weeks I feverishly worked on some updates to get the app to the point I had always intended (along with bug fixes).

Then reality set in.

199 units old  = US$209 in sales = US$135 proceeds (net to me). In order to get the app on the app store I needed to pay the $99 developer fee.

So after 2 months and 1 week my (before tax) profit was $36.

I did my best on the marketing front. I carefully researched app store optimization. I wrote personal emails to a few of the sites that write about apps. I gently pointed out some points of difference in my app and what I’d discovered about cellular data usage that had prompted me to write the app. That effort lead to nothing.

In doing so I stumbled on the bizarre after market for app store code. So that’s why so many Flappy Bird clones appeared within weeks.  It seems like hordes of developers quickly discovered they made no money on the app store – so they might as well endlessly recycle their source code.

Talk about a way to kill innovation and no wonder the app store is so chock-full of all kinds of stuff.

So why am I doing this?

I had sunk so much time into this. I’ve gained some new skills but in doing so – discovered just how challenging it is for a team of one to get anywhere in this new world of apps. Apparently the app store gold rush finished sometime in 2009.

I get that. My own app does what dozens of other apps do. BUT – of course I coded it to improve on issues I saw in other apps. It is something I prefer to use to measure my data usage rather than the 4 other apps I tried before hand.

It’s buried in the app store. It’s hard to locate even with a fairly specific keyword search.

Where to Now For Software?

The app store model has changed things. Our expectations as consumers are for free everything.

We buy a $5 cup of coffee without a thought or throw $50 of gas into our car as if it were monopoly money. But any software over $1 is shockingly overpriced! And the developer better FIX MY PROBLEM RIGHT NOW OR ELSE…

As a child I bought games on cassette tape for my Commodore 64. They cost over $70 (in old money).

Things have never been better as a consumer – unfortunately the app store model has made things weird.  Most games (for example) are now little more than vehicles to drive in-app purchases via a cynical addiction cycle.  It’s tough to find something that you pay for once and enjoy. And even then – we expect to pay a developer a couple of dollars and have the app upgraded for free forever.

It’s a bit like the web: the moment we expected (and demanded) content for free, publishers began to turn sites into content silos in order to drive ad views. So we bitch about the ads, but none of us would be willing to spend money on a website (the paywall experiment failed years ago).

Where to Now For Me?

I had a few other app ideas for the future… but the cost/benefit ratio simply does not justify it.

I’m going to leave it.

I’m too slow at coding. Maybe if it was something I did full-time I would no doubt get faster – but I can’t afford to do that. Not with $36 to show for it (and don’t tell my wife – I barely got my head out of the laptop for a month).

For those who purchased my app. Thank you so much. I will support the product as long as it is available. I will answer your emails and read your reviews and listen to your suggestions.

 

Hi, I'm James, and for the last decade I've made a living by making my own blogs and websites.
Updated: September 12, 2016

14 Comments

  1. Hi James,

    Great blog and thanks for sharing it with everyone.

    Just wondering if you thought of trying a different model?
    Such as, give that game away free (maybe with ad venue) and make a sequel adding new features, charge for the sequel.
    If people liked your first free game they might be prepared to pay a bit more for the sequel.
    I know this means going back and re-doing the game, but the original coding is done.
    Another option would be to use something like construct 2, which is really easy to create a game, I guess depending on how complicated the game is.
    Either way well done for trying.
    Thanks

  2. Hey James, I realize that the $36 wasn’t much after a month. However, you gained some intangible assets. I think if you scaled your game and hired, you could make more money off of it. The fact that you made that many sales is quite an accomplishment.

  3. You said you only made a profit of $36 but you aren’t looking at it properly. That $99 developer fee lasts a year. You’ve already covered your costs. So any future apps you make within that year would be way more that $36 per app if the sales are consistent.

    Also did you do any marketing for the app? or were all the sales purely organic?

  4. Why did your profits go from $209 to $135?

    • That wasn’t profit but revenue. The 209 -> 135 is the actual dollar amount sold ($209), and the actual that I got in my hand ($135). That’s because Apple takes out a fee for each sale.

  5. Great things are discussed in the article from beginning to the end for the app development and after the development.

  6. James,
    Consider this: If you were approached to write another app like it, would you be able to do it more confidently, and perhaps, better?

    — $36 and useful app development experience, not to mention something you can mention in your resume!

  7. thanks u so much

  8. I’ve trie d to comment on this now and it doesn’t accept it

  9. Great article. Very interesting read. I think that like selling any commodity advertising goes a long way to shifting units.

    • Thanks, and yes of course. I guess it depends how much time you are willing to devote to that effort. The sheer scale of the app store always makes it attractive as an avenue for easy sales. However that same scale makes it a confusing mess to navigate through.

    • I think the app store is an exercise in futility. It’s an ever increasing market of opportunity which levels itself out and you lose in the end.

  10. The problem with apps is that you have to know what people want. If you don’t know the particular app they want, then you have to know what kind of trend they want. There is a lot of marketing and strategy that needs to go on, but not only after the app is made.
    Take that Clear app, for example. All is does is manage todos. It’s stupid. Yet, for some reason, people latched onto it like it was a 2-year old walking on the ledge of a building. The way it manages todos isn’t great, but because it does it differently it gained all kinds of press. Ridiculous.
    There’s only 1 app that I’ve seen so far that I would say is great in BOTH design and functionality and that’s Fantastical. Other apps may do great things functionally, but certain interface elements make the design not so great. Other apps have a great UI, but the functionality is so-so.

    • I have a newfound respect for app developers after having a go myself. Coming from a web background I found it very challenging.

      I frequently get people asking for apps on a few websites I run… they want the functionality of the website in an app. However I’ve held back as I just don’t see the point. Content is not software.

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