Business Tips

How to beat 2/3rds of app competitors

Our mission here at Developer Economics is to help developers create a better app business. A recent survey from App Promo highlights the pain points once again, and offers some hints about the solution.

Let’s start with the bad news…

4 out of 5 developers admit that their app doesn’t make enough money to be considered a standalone business. 2 out of 3 doesn’t break even. This confirms our results from the Developer Economics 2013 report, where 67% of developers who want to earn money live under the App Poverty line (revenues of less than $500 per month).

Despite these disconcerting numbers, and despite developers indicating discovery, making money and turning the app into a business as the main challenges, most developers undervalue the importance of marketing their applications. According to the App Promo survey, 2 out of 3 developers don’t have a marketing budget, and a quarter of developers doesn’t market their app at all.

And yet there is hope. A full 81% of developers said that they would not abandon their app. App Promo found that the survivors (experienced developers with apps that are over 3 years in the market) have succeeded in creating an interesting app business. They report revenues earned to date of over half a million, 100% of them breaks even and 78% considers their app successful enough for a standalone business. And yes, they do market their apps: over half of the respondents in this group has marketing budgets of over $1000 per month.

App Promo’s results also include differences between platforms, the use of various revenue models and marketing techniques, and more. The full results can be downloaded here.



Mobile Advertising versus App Store Promotion: a tale of woes and wins

As an independent developer, I ‘ve had my fair amount of successes and failures – examples of the former are TVPyx (Symbian, Windows Phone, Web) and TubeBusBike (Symbian).

Having developed apps on iOS, Android, WP, Symbian, Bada and Web – my experiences of all stores  has been mixed. As an independent developer it is increasingly difficult to get noticed in the sea of apps that are available on the various stores. I have had a fair amount of trial and error experiences with both advertising and merchandising across those stores. I ‘m here to share my experiences with both.

 There are a number of techniques available to developers that can be used to promote your app and increase downloads. Some of these you will need to pay for, some of which are just down to hard work and slick execution. Of course there is always an element of luck and right place right time usually built upon previous failures, think Rovio. I am going to concentrate on two methods of promotion.

 Advertising  and cross promotion – The method of promoting an app either through paid in-app advertising i.e. in someone else’s app/website or cross promotion through apps developed by the same publisher.

 App store promotion – The practice of promoting an app via app stores. Merchandisers (app store owner staffers) select apps by country/region to appear as featured or promoted apps on the store. Various ‘slots’ have different success rates where ‘featured’ is usually the Holy Grail in terms of maximizing eyeballs and downloads.


Advertising using one of the mobile ad networks like Admob or an ad exchange like Inneractive is a paid-for activity i.e. you would pay for a campaign of ad impressions to promote your application in the usual advertising model. While someone like Admob may be excellent in a market like the Germany, they may lack in a specific region like Vietnam. This is where an ad exchange comes in. If you have a truly global application or specific regional needs that no one ad network can provide the required local content, an ad exchange barters on your behalf with local inventory and then serves the ad that gives you the most return.

Not all ad mechanisms are created equal, so you should take care whilst selecting one. While the fill rate may be excellent compared to a single network, the downside is that you may not be getting premium content that would be served by a truly local provider i.e. lower CPM. So while a fixed ad network can provide targeted delivery in terms of locale, an ad exchange can level the playing field especially in those maybe hard to reach areas of the globe. You need to understand your market and choose accordingly.

My personal experience of using paid-for app promotion was very disappointing. For £1000 one of my apps was involved in a campaign that consisted of a carousel with 4 ads shown in succession. The campaign as a whole  garnered 260,000 impressions. My ad was the 4th on the carousel meaning that it would be the 4th ad served once the app the ad was in was invoked. Quite far down the pecking order. From this campaign there were 82 clicks of which it is unclear whether any of these actually resulted in any downloads. No spike, no step change, just noise. The ad was targeted at UK mainly but a few other countries were involved. So quite a high customer acquisition rate!

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some markets, advertising in apps might even have an adverse effect on downloads, as they use data which comes at a cost to the user.

App Store Promotion

Being a ‘featured’ app on any store will dramatically increase downloads. Naturally being featured in a store is likely the result of one of the following; it’s a great app, it’s a great experience, great PR, a relationship with a journalist on a national newspaper, major marketing budget, lots of hard work and maybe a bit of luck to name a few.

To get noticed by a store owner – especially an OEM – you need to consider what they as the builder of the devices are currently trying to push. For Nokia it may be imaging or mapping i.e. you are more likely to be promoted if you are harnessing one of the strengths of the business, what makes them unique. For Samsung it may be an app that integrates with their TV solutions. Segmentation considerations also work e.g. apps for a demographic that are being targeted by a particular device or devices. Building a relationship with an app store owner is a means to get promoted but this is likely to be the result of an app that meets the needs of a campaign or some quid quo pro between the developer and the likely OEM. A strong relationship or understanding of needs is required regardless of approach. I am privileged enough to have been involved a number of OEM programmes and have some close relationships with a number of OEM’s and platform providers so this approach has very much worked for me.

There are a number different areas on a store where you can be promoted; featured, staff picks etc. Some OEM’s have mini stores that usually link to their platform stores like Windows Marketplace or Play. This gives the OEM the ability to merchandise their partner apps without seeking the permission of the platform owner. Nokia has the App Highlights app shipped with all their phones, other OEM’s have their own offering.

My experience of being featured on Windows Marketplace was great for downloads as I suspect being featured would be on other stores. App Highlights worked well until Nokia changed the app due to having to try to promote more apps themselves. This meant my app started to get lost in the sheer number of apps being promoted. The latter being the inherent problem of managing app promotion on store.

Below is a graph of my own experience of being featured on Windows Marketplace and being promoted through App Highlights. There is no halo effect, as soon as the promotion stops the graph returns to the usual run rate. The implication is that you have to continue to promote and market the app to get downloads. As you can see the experience is far more positive than paid-for app advertising. Being featured represented a 1000% increase (800 downloads/day) in downloads whilst being included in App Highlights represented a 200% (160 downloads/day) increase in downloads.

Continuous promotion is crucial

There are other spikes on the graph that are not either Featured or App Highlights. The honest answer is I don’t know what caused them. I only know that my app was featured or highlighted because a) someone told me or b) I happened to know the right people. The other spikes could have been caused by promotion on other parts of the store that I was unaware of or a blog picked up on the app etc. It is usually the case that the developer is not told that their app is being promoted which seems a shame for the developer and the store owner not to be able to capitalize on the promotion.


To get downloads, you need to continuously promote and market your app. I experienced no halo effect, as soon as the promotion stops the graph returns to the usual run rate. For me, getting featured and highlighted was a far more effective solution than paid-for advertising. The key is to build close relationships with multiple OEM’s and platform providers and use it to deeply understand their marketing needs.


TapJoy (53%) leads in cross-promotion networks, Flurry and Chartboost are chasing

Building a great app is not enough – to get lots of users, those users have to be aware that you exist. As app stores focus on top apps, which amount to less than 1% of all available apps, discovery has become a major problem for app makers. One solution is to band together in a cross-promotion network: “advertise” apps within other apps, making it easier for users to discover similar apps to the one they are already using.

Numerous models of cross-promotion exist

Cross-promotion networks (CPN) are used by developers both as a means for promoting their apps and monetising apps. When used for promotion purposes, there are numerous models out there, some being free, based on traffic exchange between apps, enabling developers to run low cost or free promotions. However, several CPNs operate on a cost-per-install basis, with developers paying for each user acquired. A special case of cross-promotion is incentivised installs, a practice that Apple has been trying to restrict on App Store.

Used by 7% of developers overall, usage of cross-promotion services is not very high and does not vary significantly by platform. Usage is higher among developers that develop games (13% of all games developers) and higher than average among developers working on comms & social networking apps (9%), entertainment apps (10%) and music & video apps (10%). These app categories are mainly addressing young consumers with limited purchasing power; using CPNs and incentivised downloads in particular, allows easy access to this target audience, which would otherwise not be able to acquire such apps. Developers who use CPNs tend to use one network (59%), but 18% use more than three networks. Overall, developers using CPNs will use 1.7 CPNs on average.

CPN usage increases with the number of apps developed, rising to 15% among developers who work on more than 16 apps per year. CPNs provide opportunities to cross-promote across one’s own apps, allowing developers to leverage the popularity of the most popular apps to drive usage of less popular or new apps. For developers working on several apps it usually makes sense to cross-promote across their app portfolio.


Tapjoy leads, with Flurry and Chartboost following behind

TapJoy is leading in the cross-promotion space, used by 53% of developers that use CPNs. Flurry AppCircle and Chartboost, follow at some distance and are competing for second spot (20% and 18%), while there are numerous other providers who have over 5% market share.

The most important selection criterion for cross-platform tools is the number of users reached (36% of developers using cross promotion networks) but it is only marginally higher than cross-platform availability (35%) and ease of integration (34%). Obviously, depending on how developers use these tools, the decision criteria may vary. For those developers who use CPN for promotion purposes, cost is important. We found that, on average, the typical CPI (cost-per-install) was $0.60 among iOS and Android developers, with no notable difference between these platforms. When used as a revenue source, the revenue potential becomes important, as indicated by 25% of developers using CPNs. About a fifth of developers rely on recommendations for selecting a CPN.

[doritos_report location=’DE13 Article – Cross-promo networks’]

Which cross-promotion networks are other developers using?

[toggle title=”Important things to know about this interactive graph”]

  • All the filters in the graph refer to survey questions in which respondents could select multiple answers. This means that there is no direct link between the filter and the use of the tool. For example, filtering on “Android” means that the respondents develop Android apps. It doesn’t imply that they use the tools for their Android apps specifically, or even that the tool supports the Android platform. Use filters as a guideline only.
  • Keep an eye on the sample size. If the sample size is low, the graph doesn’t offer strong conclusions about the popularity of different tools. Use your good judgment when making decisions.[/toggle]

    Find the best cross-promotion tool for you!

    [sectors ids=’45’]


How Price Changes Can Improve Revenues

Distimo recently published an interesting report (free, registration required) on how app price changes affect revenue for iPhone & iPad apps. They give a breakdown on the scale of price changes but only give the really interesting results – the download and revenue impacts – averaged across all price changes. The key result is that download volumes and revenues are significantly positively impacted by price drops and negatively impacted to a lesser degree when the price rises again.

Although not specified by Distimo it’s likely that the vast majority of price rises are simply prices returning to normal after an offer ends. In this context it’s worth bearing in mind that e.g. an app with 1000 downloads/day increases on average to 9710 downloads/day after 5 days following a price drop. When the price goes back up again, the downloads fall by 57% of the increased total, e.g. back to 4175.

Demand at zero price

A factor that is not accounted for in the Distimo analysis is the discontinuity in demand at zero price. Ideally the effects of price changes that make an app free should be analysed separately from those which do not. In the former case, demand at zero price is typically multiples of demand at any non-zero price; a free promotion also relies on generating revenue from in-app purchases, advertising or subsequent increased demand after the promotion ends. On the other hand, price changes which do not make an app free are trading off price against volume. Developers can experiment with these changes to find the price point which generates maximum revenue. For most apps the marginal cost of serving additional users is close to zero and certainly dwarfed by the cost of creating the app. In this scenario, maximum revenue equals maximum profit. The zero price effect also suggests that any price drop intended to increase downloads for the purposes of increased visibility in the store should be a free promotion for maximum impact.

Longer term impact

The Distimo report shows revenue growth (purely from downloads and in-app purchases) continues for at least seven days from a price drop, reaching an average of 71% increase for the iPad and 159% for the iPhone. Beyond seven days we have a much smaller dataset from the App Rewards Club (and their analysis of Free App A Day) which suggests an initial revenue spike follows the end of a free promotion but the longer term increase in revenues is only minor, questioning the fees charged by some free promotion services.

Beware frequent sales

If a key component of your revenue model is paid downloads and temporary price drops create spikes in revenue, along with slightly increased revenue in the long run, it’s tempting to think that frequent sales will ratchet up your earnings bit by bit. The truth is likely the opposite since there are multiple services that allow consumers to check the price history of a premium app; if there are regular sales many users will simply wait for the next one. There was a good review of the issues with sales on the app store last year, however, ignore any claims that it’s impossible to succeed with premium pricing – even in the most competitive category, games, one of the most successful apps is MineCraft, priced consistently at $6.99. Most of the other top ranked premium apps either don’t have sales at all, or only do so around significant events (new major versions, holidays, new device launches).

All of this data was for iOS. According to Distimo, Google Play also shows similar effects on price changes but of a smaller magnitude due to the greater difficulty of reaching top rankings. However, the subject of price promotion on Android is much less relevant, since paid downloads make up such a tiny fraction of overall revenues.


Advertising to Existing Users – could re-engagement reap rewards?

Currently the vast majority of mobile app advertising is used to generate new installs. At the same time, for some of the most successful revenue models, a small fraction of the most active users generate the bulk of the revenue. Free-to-play games are a good example of this model but there are similar in-app purchase driven schemes in other categories. Whilst a user is still very engaged with an app it’s likely that the most cost effective way to increase their spend is within the app. However, if an existing user stops using an app regularly ,then might there be more value in re-engaging users than acquiring a new user?


The changing landscape of app discovery

[The explosive growth of app ecosystems is creating serious bottlenecks in app discovery that only popular apps can overcome. Having 700,000 apps is great for platform vendors, but not so great for developers, whose apps are lost in the heap. Andreas Pappas takes a look at the app discovery problem and considers whether social discovery is a better solution than the alternatives available today. This post also appeared on the VisionMobile blog. Follow Andreas on Twitter: @pappasandreas]

Business Platforms Tips

App Promotion: make or break your app

With well over one million total apps available on Apple and Google app stores combined, plus hundreds of thousands on the other platforms, the competition to get on consumers’ handsets is fierce. As hundreds of apps are added each and every day, app discovery remains a largely unsolved challenge which is only getting worse. With a rapidly changing landscape of app store ranking algorithms, mobile advertising products, cross-promotion networks and specialist marketing services it’s very difficult to decide how to begin app promotion which is cost-effectively. The one very clear piece of advice we can give is what you shouldn’t do – nothing.

Business Tips

Crowdfunding: Leanest Way to Launch?

One question that divides opinion among developers is when to start marketing your app. Some say if you start marketing too soon, the early interest you create will dissipate before you actually have something to sell. Others argue that you can’t start talking about your app soon enough, build a following of early adopters and you have great word of mouth marketing and an initial sales boost to climb the store charts. What if you can have the benefits without any of the downside? It might just be possible with crowdfunding.

Business Tips

Do Push Notifications Increase Engagement?

Push notifications are a popular tool for this purpose. With the vast majority of app revenue growth coming from in-app purchases rather than paid downloads, it’s more important than ever to keep users engaged with your apps. Updating users about new content or activity and driving them back to the app. At the same time the technology is controversial since unwelcome or excessive push notifications annoy users, who will either disable them or worse yet uninstall the app responsible. So is it worth the risk? Do push notifications work?

APIs Platforms

Facebook’s Mobile App Install Ads – will they work for developers?

Back in August, Facebook announced a beta for a new ad unit to help drive mobile app installs on iOS and Android. That product was made available to all developers recently and the early user reports are very positive. Is this early success likely to translate into a long term win-win for both Facebook and the mobile developer community?