Some Things Change, Others Don't

I really enjoyed reading David Barnard’s post about the pricing trajectory of the app store. He gives voice to something that I imagine keeps most Indie iOS developers up at night. How long can I continue doing what I love? I’m an indie developer because it is what I love to do. I’ve been making apps for over 3 years on iOS because it provides a platform where crafting cool and interesting applications provides enough income to pay the bills.

Even after 3 years of doing this professionally I still have a moment of panic each day I open up my sales reports. I wonder if today will be the day that my sales fall off a cliff and I have to find some other way to make my living. Gladly that day has never yet come.

The way you make your living in the App Store changes, constantly. It is the natural result of such a high volume marketplace that the various players are constantly pushing the limits and finding new avenues for revenue. Each update in the OS brings new app possibilities or allows new pricing models. Most recently this has brought on a wave of freemium games and apps which dominate the Top Grossing charts via consumable in-app purchases. I’m sure this summer will see the arrival of new APIs and features by Apple that turn this around and again move the store in another direction.

I’ve seen this in my own business. Transitioning from all paid apps to a mix of paid, advertising based, and in-app purchase apps. By adapting to the changing marketplace I have been blessed to keep my income pretty much constant (if not increasing) over the last couple of years. Being adaptive is probably the most important trait of an Indie.

This type of change neither frightens nor bothers me. Sure, when I see a scammy “Lock Screen” app ranking in the top 100 grossing apps it is frustrating. Given the number of finely crafted, awesome apps that never see that success. But if I’m honest with myself, I am mostly just jealous. I’d love to bang out an app in a few days and have it make me thousands of dollars a day, who wouldn’t? But I don’t see that as a failing of the Store, each of those sales was made by a customer who is entitled to buy what they like. If someone has found a way to capitalize on a hole in market — good for them, they won the lottery.

As the App Store changes it is up to individual developers to find their niche and adapt to the times. The single most important change in the marketplace happens every day when hundreds of thousands of new customers are added to the platform. To make a decent living in the App Store you need for just a few hundred users to buy your apps. Or just a few dozen if you have a higher priced app. That is as true today as it was when the app store launched.

Neither Apple nor customers owe success to developers. Success isn’t now and never has been a given. Success has always been equal parts luck and skill. That is as true in the App Store as in any competitive market. Making a good living can’t always be easy.

I imagine that someday I will wake up to find the gravy train derailed, the job I love will no longer be sustainable. However, I suspect that day is very far off. So long as a developer keeps his eye on the market and adapts to the changing tides I’m confident there will be a good living to be made here.

David Smith