As some of you may know, in March of this year, I started freeAppCalendar.com as an answer to what I considered the massive overcharging of FreeAppADay (FAAD), which at the time was $1,200 for a one-day feature. I felt that indie developers needed a more reasonably priced choice for promoting their apps.
Over the past 10 months, it seems that other developers disagreed with me on the value proposition of FAAD, with some paying much as much as $35,000 for a one-week feature during Christmas. Apparently there are plenty of developers willing to fork out big bucks to promote their games and apps. Perhaps I was wrong.
On the other hand, I’ve received a large number of emails from developers thanking me for keeping the cost of freeAppCalendar.com reasonable. My site has had its share of successes, including a #1 Overall Free App with The Impossible Test. Other developers, including myself, have had decent success as well. I can attribute at least $3,000 in extra income this year to having featured my games on freeAppCalendar.com.
Of course not all developers have had the same sort of success. The site has not been able to regularly push apps to the same levels as FAAD. The FAAD site has full-time people behind it constantly looking for developers to promote their apps. I have a full-time job, and develop and maintain my own games and apps in the evenings and weekends, so the site has mostly grown by word of mouth. I have some plans to change that, which is what this post is about.
Plan Your Monetization Strategy
While free app sites have made a lot of money for some developers, other developers have not fared so well. With sites now charging $3,000 or more for a one-day feature, some developers will never recover the cost.
This is partly due to naivety on their part. They think that somehow these sites are magic, and that they can take a bad or mediocre app and turn it into a massive hit. That’s just not going to happen.
If you have a decent app though, you can definitely make additional money by setting it free if you plan ahead. Sometimes, as with my game Charmed, a developer can raise sales of an app after it switches back from free to paid. Having 100,000 or more downloads in 2-3 days brings enough word of mouth to increase sales if people like the app.
The smarter play, however, is to have a monetization plan in place before enlisting the help of any free app site. If you set it up so that you can make money while your app is free, you may find that you never want to switch it back to paid.
Ad-supported apps are one major monetization strategy. It’s been reported that Word with Friends makes over $500,000/month off of in-app ads. The key factor to making money with ads is obviously to have a large number of people use your app everyday. A free app site can help provide those people, but it’s still up to you to create an app that makes them want to come back day after day.
Free app sites can also help apps which are monetized through in-app purchases, since players have a chance to get hooked on the app for free. The massive successes of freemium games like Tap Zoo, Smurfville, Zombie Farm, Bakery Story, etc. are good examples of this monetization strategy in action.
Change is a Constant
As with most things, when running an app promotion site you’re never standing still. You’re either moving forward or falling behind. Lately freeAppCalendar.com has been falling behind. I either need to step up the promotion efforts so that it provides more value to developers, or let it fall by the wayside.
I’ve put a lot of time and energy into the site already, so giving up on it would not be an easy decision.
I have several ideas that would differentiate the site again from its competitors and gain a much larger number of daily downloads for participating developers. These ideas would require significant development & maintenance resources (i.e., $$$$), so I want to get a feel for how welcome they would be to the developer community before going too much further.
Two Sides To Every Story
As you’ve likely figured out, I think the possibility exists to help forward-thinking developers make more money with their apps (and of course, make some money myself at the same time). I know that I am part of a larger community though, and I want to be responsible to the needs and wants of that community. Not everyone thinks that free app sites are a good idea.
I’ve overheard conversations and read forum posts that say that free app sites condition people into expecting all their apps for free, and that they won’t pay for apps anymore. In other words, as the argument goes, free app sites devalue the App Store.
I’ve seen similar opinions on Twitter recently about EA’s massive $0.99 sale of their entire catalog. Dropping the price of a game from $12.99 to $0.99 is a pretty drastic move for a company that big. Many wonder what the long-term effet on the App Store economy will be.
I can understand the above arguments, but with the sheer volume of developers and apps, it seems like fighting a losing battle to pin your hopes of success on charging a few bucks more for each app.
One counter argument (and coincidentally the same one used when discussing piracy) is that most of people who download free apps wouldn’t have paid for them anyway.
Even if that is true, then “free app” sites may still serve to promote games that are monetized through ads. They can also still help deliver the users/players needed to make in-app purchases profitable.
I would like to get some honest feedback from you on the free app promotion concept in general.
- Do you think free app sites are a good way to promote apps?
- What do you think is right/wrong with today’s free app sites?
- If you ran a free app site, how would you differentiate it?
- Would you use one of these sites to promote an app/game?
Please don’t hold back on your opinions. I want to know what you’re thinking. Please pass along the link to your other developer friends as well so I can get a broader range of opinions.