Selling iPhone apps

A couple of months ago, I posted about our first iPhone app Clz Movies. In the meantime, we have released four more: Clz Books, Clz Music, Clz Games and Clz Comics.

Clz Comics app for iPhone

Here’s an update on our experience selling iPhone apps.

Sales

I was expecting to sell just enough of them to my existing customers, so that we could cover the costs of development. Then after that maybe get some positive effects from the cool looking screenshots on our website, convert a couple more visitors into buying our stuff.

But overall, sales are higher than I expected, much higher in fact. Here’s a weekly sales graph:

iphone-sales11

I’ll keep the absolute sales number to myself 🙂
But for each of the apps you can see a high sales peak when we announced it to existing customers of the respective Windows software. For the movie, book and music apps, there was a second, smaller bump later, when we updated our Mac software with the necessary iPhone export features. And for each of the apps, those first peaks more than covered the development costs. Which was a nice surprise of course.

But what I am even happier with, is the fact that sales are still strong. After the launch peaks, sales have dropped to a nice steady level. The iPhone apps are now generating a considerable amount of extra monthly profits. Enough in fact to make it worthwhile to invest more development time.

It’s hard to tell whether the availability of iPhone companion apps is actually convincing more new visitors into choosing our software over that of our competitors (hi Max!). Partly because of the inability to track iPhone sales. More about that in the next paragraph.
But my idea is that it gives our website an more “up to date” feel. Even if you don’t own an iPhone, you may be impressed by the fact that our company can do this kind of stuff 🙂

Tracking

Clz Games app for iPhoneAs you know, I love tracking everything. And in this regard, selling iPhone apps is a nightmare.
Apple gives me nothing to work with, I don’t even get instant sales notifications. I have to login to the horrible iTunes Connect system to download my sales stats manually. Initially I did this every day, downloading the CSV reports, importing them in Google Docs, summing the counts to get a nice graph per app. But this was so much hassle that I am now doing that per week only.

But what’s even worse: Apple doesn’t give me any customer information. Just overall sales numbers per day/week/month and per region. So I have no idea who purchased my apps. And I have no way to link iPhone sales to existing customer data.

This means I can’t follow up by email with tips or news about updates. And it makes it impossible to send targeted, segmented email campaigns. E.g. for a new campaign to sell the Clz Movies app, I am forced to just email all Movie Collector users again. I have no way to exclude the ones that already purchased my iPhone app. That just sucks.

Marketing

Two of my favorite ways to sell stuff are Google Adwords, Discount Coupons and Upselling during checkout. But for selling iPhone apps, I’m out of luck on all three.

Adwords lets me bid on terms containing the word “iphone”, like “iphone dvd organizer”, but I cannot use the word iPhone in my ad because of trademark violations. This makes it hard to write high CTR ad copy.
(I read somewhere that if you contact Apple they may give you permission to use their trademarked words. I haven’t looked into this yet.)

Apple’s App Store does not have a discount coupon system. Which is a shame, cause I would love to do temporary promotions for my iPhone apps to specific segments of my customer base. Of course I can temporarily lower the price of my apps, but then everybody gets the lower price. Could be a fun experiment too, but I’d prefer to use coupons. Just gives me more control.

iPhone apps can only be purchased through the App Store on the iPhone or iPod touch itself or through iTunes. It is not possible to sell them yourself, in your own online shop. IMO this is one of the reasons of the success of iPhone apps: having a simple one-stop-shop for all iPhone software, just enter your iTunes password to buy stuff.

However, it also means that I cannot bundle the iPhone apps with my regular software. I mean, how cool would it be to if I could just offer a “Movie Collector plus Clz Movies” bundle offer in my own shop? Or what about having the Clz Movies app as an upsell on my Upsell page. A $10 iPhone companion app would be the perfect upsell…
I am doing the best I can to make all my customers and new visitors aware of the mobile apps, but if they want them, they need to make a separate purchase in the App Store.
Why not allow me to sell some kind of vouchers that my customers can then use to download the iPhone apps? How hard can it be?

Customer Feedback

Clz Books app for iPhoneIn general, our users love the iPhone apps. We already have many favorable reviews in the App Store. And we received some great suggestions and feature requests. We are implementing most of those in the upcoming 1.1 updates.
Not all though… some users would like to see the iPhone apps grow into full iPhone editions of our Windows/Mac software, including editing features. But that’s not where I want to take these apps, at least not at the moment. They have been designed as mobile viewer apps, as companion apps for the Windows editions. Adding editing capabilities would complicate everything (both code and UI) and I don’t expect any extra sales from it.

We did get some complaints about the $9.99 price tag. A lot of iPhone apps are cheap, ranging from $4.99 for popular games like Peggle, to $0.99 for small gadgets, to free gimmicky apps.
However, judging from the sales, $9.99 seems to be a good price. Maybe we would sell a couple more if the price was, say, $4.99. But I am sure that we would be making a lot less money 🙂

Finally, an interesting effect I am seeing is that users of other mobile devices (Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Android, etc…) are quite upset with us doing iPhone apps only. Some of them really feel discriminated and accuse of of being Apple zealots. We have seen weird discussions on our forum, with Blackberry users bashing the iPhone’s features, bringing up sales numbers of mobile devices, ultimately demanding that we create Blackberry apps too, because there’s more Blackberry devices around than iPhones…
I tried explaining that the App Store has sold more software than all other mobile devices together and therefore it makes more sense to create iPhone apps. But of course, that didn’t help much 🙂

What’s next?

So will we ever create similar apps for Blackberry or Android? Windows Mobile maybe? Mmm, don’t think so. I don’t think the extra development costs will ever be earned back. And what’s more important, we do already offer an alternative solution for other mobile device with our Movie Collector Connect web application. Connect editions for books, music, games and comics are in the works.

I’d rather invest more time in improving the iPhone apps, try to sell some more of those. Which is what we are doing now. We are working on 1.1 updates for all five apps, improving the user interface and performance, adding some more fields and a couple of missing features.

6 thoughts on “Selling iPhone apps

  1. Apple does have a discount coupon system, though only in limited regions (United States, and it’s started showing up in Australia too). There was some controversy when Apple blocked discount coupons on 17+ apps, for instance:

    http://www.iphoneworld.ca/news/2009/07/17/apple-wont-allow-coupons-for-17-apps/

    For customer email addresses, you could try asking for that in the app itself. That’s something that the Ambience app tried, but they eventually removed it because customers didn’t want to receive the emails. Otherwise you could try embedding an RSS feed within the app.

    • Hi Kohan,
      I know there is something like Promotional Codes, but as I understand it, there are for non-commercial use. We have used them for reviewers and beta testers. And these codes only let you give the app away for free. And you get only 50 codes per app version…
      I have not seen a discount coupon system, but maybe that is because I am in Europe.

  2. Alwin, why can’t you add a short optional registration form to your iPhone apps? Is it prohibited by Apple? You can try to gather customer names and e-mails in that way.

    • Hi Max,
      Thanks for that suggestion. I have been thinking about a semi-automatic registration system inside my Windows and Mac apps. When licensed users successfully transfer their data to an iPhone app, I could use their license info to update my customer database with the fact that they also own an iPhone app. Of course after requesting the user’s permission, but it would be fully automatic after that.

  3. He Alwin,

    Kwam toevallig via je autoblog post op je site. Gaaf die iPhone apps! Ik heb er ook een gemaakt maar die verkoopt helaas voor geen meter… 🙁 En we hebben nog wel een cool filmpje er bij gemaakt. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE0FAfSv46o Nu is de app ook niet super onderscheidend blijkt later. Als je marketing tips hebt hoor ik het graag.

    Ik kan mijn X5 V8 helaas nog niet vervangen van de opbrengsten van mijn App. 🙂

    Benieuwd wat je gekozen hebt bij theway.

    Greetz
    Martijn

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