It’s been just over two weeks since our post about our Amazon App Store experience, so we thought we’d give you a quick update:
- We received A LOT of unexpected press coverage, everyone from Daring Fireball to podcasts like Tech News Today and Buzz Out Loud. Since our goal was to raise awareness of how the Free App Of The Day Promotion works, I think we’ve succeeded there. Anyone who thinks this was a calculated marketing ploy, clearly has very little idea about how clueless about marketing we are, and just how hard it is to get covered by some of these publications.
- The next most amazing thing was the volume of people that wrote into us with their support, and their stories about how they had since purchased our app, and just how much they loved it. To each and every one of those people, we thank you, we really do. Let it never be said that Android users don’t pay for apps or care about developers.
- There is still some confusion as to why we did what we did, and the answer is really simple: we were angry about the strict privacy Amazon enforces around these back door deals, and we wanted to expose them.
- There’s no denying that other developers in the same situation as us, would have been jumping for joy at the exposure that 100,000+ downloads brings. More power to you, it may well be in some situations it would be a great thing.
Thank you for your message. We need to verify that you are removing the same app(s) from any Similar Services (defined as any Android OS application store which distributes in the U.S. and its territories and possessions) at the same time barring other agreements that may prevent you from listing the app(s) in the Amazon Appstore. Please refer to the Distribution Agreement for Amazon Appstore:
3.a. Delivery Commitment for Apps. You will deliver electronically to us and continue to make available during the Term all versions of all software applications, games or other digital products (including any special or collector’s editions) (i) that are designed for the Platform, (ii) for which you have the rights required under this Agreement, and (iii) that are the same versions and editions (except as otherwise provided in this Agreement) that you or your affiliates make available directly or indirectly to any Similar Service….
Please respond to confirm that your request for app(s) withdrawal is compliant with our policies. Once we hear back from you, we will verify and then let you know how we will proceed.
That’s right, they responded asking us to remove our application from the Google Market, and then they would let us know how they would proceed. Needless to say that creeped us out a bit, but again it’s a case of read the developer agreement (every last page of it) before signing up. Easy to say in retrospect, but admit it, how many developers out there read every single one Apple/Google send out to them before clicking ‘I Agree’?
Finally we gave up and asked them to terminate our developer agreement, a full week later, we received this response:
Thank you for your email requesting termination of your Amazon Appstore Distribution Agreement. Your account is terminated.
Feel free to read that in the ‘Arnie’ voice, it really does make it sound better. So far we’ve yet to figure out what being ‘terminated’ means, since we can still log into their admin area, and they still have our app in the ‘suppressed’ state. If that means new people can’t buy it, but people that have it currently can update to the latest version, then we’re all for that. If on the other hand it means one day they can just start selling it again, well you’d hope not, but at this stage nothing would surprise us.
Finally they sent us a cheque for around $700 representing 3 months worth of app sales, addressed to ‘RUSSELL RUSSELL’. It’s no doubt safe to assume that was a clerical error (since no Russell Russell works here), but I’d like to think they issued us a cheque we couldn’t bank as a final act of defiance, to show who The Boss really is. Sorry Jeff, want to hug and make up?
If you really haven’t had enough, then I think you could do far worse than watch Rob Woodbridge’s interview with our own Russell Ivanovic. It goes through the full history of our company up to this point, and why we did what we did. It really puts a human side to this whole nonsense, which is so often missed in reporting: [Flash Version] [Direct Link]
About 3 months ago, we set off on a little experiment into the world of the Amazon App Store. Back then people were hailing it as the solution to the problems with the Google Market, industry pundits like Andy Ihnatko called it ‘An Excellent Work in Progress‘.
Amazon’s biggest feature by far, has been their Free App Of The Day promotion. Publicly their terms say that they pay developers 20% of the asking price of an app, even when they give it away free. To both consumers and naive developers alike, this seems like a big chance to make something rare in the Android world: real money. But here’s the dirty secret Amazon don’t want you to know, they don’t pay developers a single cent. Before being featured by Amazon, you get an email like this one:
As you may already know, the Free App of the Day offer placement is one of the most visible and valuable spaces on the Amazon Appstore. We would like to include your app “[name removed]” in our Free App of the Day calendar. We have seen tremendous results from this promotion spot and believe it will bring you a great deal of positive reviews and traffic. It is an opportunity to build your brand especially in association with a brand like Amazon’s. The current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed.
The emphasis there was actually added by them in their email. So we asked them to confirm, what seemed a ridiculous proposition:
Thanks for emailing us. If I read this correctly you’d like to give away our application for free, and pay us nothing? That’s very generous of you, but we like being paid for our work. I appreciate that Amazon is trying to build up it’s store, and get more users, but the problem is at the moment you have the reputation of being ‘The place where I get my free apps’ and for a developer like us who doesn’t put advertising into our applications, that can only be a bad thing.
We’d be happy to reconsider if you decided to pay us the 20% that we agreed to in our original developer agreement, but this new one seems to favour only you, at the expense of us?
To which they responded:
Thanks for your response. The Free App of the Day promotion is the most valuable and visible spot in the store. It hosted the launch of the likes of Angry Birds Rio, Plants v. Zombies and more. Amazon will not receive any sales rev share from the Free App of the Day; and in fact, with as the Free of the Day for one day, you will receive a subsequent Appstore main page placement for the following 14 days.
All these highly valuable placements are at no cost to you. We want to promote your app and in exchange of the placements, at the 0% rev share for one day only.
All this seemed way too one sided to us, Amazon is being predatory here, and asking developers (who are often desperate for exposure) to give away their app, in order to promote Amazon. A heated debate broke out in our office about whether we should or not. I was firmly against, my business partner for. In the end we agreed that we had entered the world of Android development as an experiment, and it would seem silly not to add more data to the experiment we were conducting. The day of our promotion came:
That’s right, Amazon gave away 101,491 copies of our app! At this point, we had a few seconds of excitement as well, had we mis-read the email and really earned $54,800 in one day? We would have done if our public agreement was in place, but we can now confirm that thanks to Amazon’s secret back-door deals, we made $0 on that day. That’s right, over 100,000 apps given away, $0 made. Did the exposure count for much in the days afterwards? That’s also a big no, the day after saw a blip in sales, followed by things going back to exactly where we started, selling a few apps a day. In fact Amazon decided to rub salt in the wounds a little further by discounting our app to 99 cents for a few days after the free promotion. All we got was about 300 emails a day to answer over the space of a few weeks, that left us tired and burnt out. For all we know most of the people who wanted our application, now have it. To add insult to injury Pocket Casts relies on a server to parse podcast feeds (allowing instant updates on your phone), and all these new users forced us to buy more hardware just to meet demand. Hardware that we are going to have to support indefinitely at our own cost.
What makes us mad though is the public perception that Amazon pays developers to be featured. Every single person we asked on Twitter or via email thought they were helping developers out, and getting a free application. Amazon does nothing to dispel these rumours, in fact they put really restrictive clauses at the bottom of their emails, saying that no one is even allowed to discuss these back door deals they are doing. But that’s not our only beef with Amazon:
- Lengthy review times of anywhere up to 2 weeks (I’ve lost count of the amount of emails from people asking why our Google Market app is newer)
- Amazon gets to set the price of your app to whatever they want, without any input from you, or even the chance to reject their price
- Amazon re-writes your description, and in ours they even made up things like ‘add up to 100 podcasts’. No idea where on earth they got that number from
- Amazon don’t provide error reports like Google do making it hard to fix errors
- They don’t yet support Google’s new multiple APK initiative
- Amazon pays far later than Google does, and to date we haven’t received any cheques from them, even though we are listed as being ‘payed’
- US Only
- Much less real-time sales information than Google
- Update: (and this one surprised us) you can’t remove apps from their store! You have to ask them for permission via an email. Every other store lets you remove apps from sale.
We can see the counter argument here, that we agreed to Amazon’s terms, even if they were underhanded and secret, so we deserve everything we got. Perhaps. I guess it’s just lucky for us that this was an experiment, and that we don’t make our full time income from selling Android apps, but rather from developing for iOS. That said, we want to make a clear stand here, so that Amazon doesn’t take advantage of those less fortunate than us.
So today we’re making a stand. Effective immediately we are removing ourselves from the Amazon Store. We’re not the only ones doing this.
To anyone who paid for our app in the Amazon Store (yes all 200 or so of you!), we apologise for the inconvenience. If you choose to come and join us in the Google Market, and want a refund for that purchase, we will be more than happy to oblige. Contact us for more details. To those who got the app free from Amazon, we’re sorry to say there won’t be any more updates. We won’t cripple your app in any way, it will continue to work…but then if you like it that much, you could do worse than throw $2 our way ;)
- We’ve turned off comments because they were getting to hard to moderate, plus I think we’ve pretty much got all the point of views now. We enjoyed the feedback though, good and bad :)
- Yes we got what we signed up for, that’s not our beef. This article sums up our contention better than we perhaps did: http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/02/amazons-appstore-youll-make-0-when-we-give-your-app-away-and-youll-like-it/
- Our app status in Amazon now says ‘suppressed’ no idea what that means, but it does sound a bit comical/sinister ;)
- My personal favourites are the conspiracy theorists “BUT YOU DIDN’T SHOW SALES AFTERWARDS, YOU GUYS MUST HAVE MADE MILLIONS”. I was almost tempted to post “Dang nab it, you caught us red handed” as a joke, but no doubt that would just get out of hand. Here you go July sales (we were featured on the 27th of June, -10 points if you ask for June 28-30th, now you’re just being silly ;-P):
In our previous post we lost our minds and decided to make Pocket Weather World and Pocket Weather World HD free for a day (normally USD$1.99) . How did it go? Well we’re glad you asked…
In terms of raw download numbers: 32,978 new Pocket Weather World users, and 23,104 HD, for a total of 56,082 new users!
I freely admit, we didn’t expect that many before the sale! I guessed 26,000, Philip 8000 (yeah, who da man!). We didn’t bother to try and optimise our server because our Australian one already supports 400,000+ users, so we figured we could add thousands of people without breaking a sweat. Boy were we wrong:
It turns out there’s one key difference in Pocket Weather World, in that searches for new locations used to take 600ms. No big deal you say, that’s reasonably snappy! True, until 50,000 new people download your app and all go to search at once! Needless to say we went into a mad scramble, and 2 hours later we got that search query down to 6ms (props to Philip on that one). Still the fact remains, thousands of new customers had just been exposed to an app that didn’t work.
By the time the sale was over, the server was under control, and we even added more memory to it just for good measure, but the damage had been done. A lot of 1 star reviews, and a lot of people that now associate ‘Shifty Jelly’ with ‘stuff that doesn’t work’.
So with that in mind, let’s get to the juicy bits, after all at least half of those new people got a working app, not a broken one. So when the sale ended did they tell all their friends? Did sales skyrocket? Pocket Weather World averages about $20 a day in sales, it shot up to $427 on the first day, and we got all giddy with excitement, but it rapidly dropped off in the following two days. Our hope is that people who heard about the sale, missed out, and then bought it anyway, but it could also have been people that thought it was free, ignored the button, and just clicked buy. We haven’t received any complaint emails, but you just never know.
Pocket Weather World HD is similar, except it averages closer to $10 a day on the app store, and it’s post sale sales were much more measured.
So what did we learn from all this?
- If you make a paid app free, expect a lot of downloads!
- If you’re app has a server component to it, be sure to test the hell out of it first, and not just assume it will be ok.
- Free app sales will get you a lot of eyeballs, but who knows if they are the right ones, or if there’s any long term affect from doing it.
Today we’re proud to announce our latest app Pocket Casts, for Android:
Which begs the obvious question: Have we gone mad, two Android apps in the space of a month? Have we abandoned iOS for greener pastures? The simple answer to which would be: no, we’ve always been mad, but we’re still committed to iOS development.
The longer answer is that currently we have two programmers at Shifty Jelly: Philip and Russell. Out of those two only one coded all our iOS apps, Russell. Philip focussed on the server side of things, which pretty much all of our apps rely on, and which has always been a full time job on it’s own. Since resigning from our full time jobs in September of 2010 Philip has been optimising the heck out of our servers, to ensure that each day he has less and less maintenance that he has to do on them. This frees him up to do some front-end development, which is something he’s always wanted to do. Combine that with his 10 years of experience in Java, and Androids rise in the mobile world, and you have a pretty good match. If you’ll endulge us a second, let’s rephrase it as a computer hardware analogy: in essence we’re a dual core machine, capable of working on iOS apps on one core, and Android apps on the other, while taking advantage of our design co-processor across both.
In many ways the Android side of things is still an experiment, a way of putting a toe into the water to see what happens. So far we’re pleased with the results, but it’s early days. We’re going to be writing a series of blog posts over the next few weeks about the experience, should be quite interesting!
So what can you expect from the Shifties over the next few months? Here’s our current plan:
- New version of Pocket Weather AU for iPhone (hopefully released to Apple today)
- New versions of Pocket Casts for iOS and Android (hint: we’re building a platform here, not a podcasting app as such…there’s a LOT more in the pipeline for Pocket Casts)
- New version of Pocket Weather AU HD for iPad
- New versions of our world weather apps
- New versions of Pocket Weather AU for Android to slowly build up the feature list to match the iPhones
- What, that’s not enough for you? ;)
So let’s put aside the iPhone vs Android war, it’s pointless, both platforms have their merits and neither one is really superior to the other. It all depends on your preference, and having a choice is a good thing as far as we’re concerned. But more importantly, you can enjoy the benefits of Shifty Jelly on both…now isn’t that a load off your minds? Now go be good little boys and girls and buy up all our apps so we can eat for another week! No really…I’m hungry…