July 2015

Since posting My Delivery Truck, I’ve gotten a lot of responses, both on Twitter and (in the best tradition of blogging) reply posts. Although many were supportive of my post, some developers took me to task. A lot of the same objections were raised repeatedly, so I’m going to concentrate on a blog post from Aleksandar Vacić titled Store your Love which nicely summarizes many of the objections that were raised.

Aleksandar writes:

The iOS App Store is not just a delivery truck. For starters, it is the delivery truck, the only one out there.

The App Store is the only marketplace where you can compete as indie iOS developer. As such, the way it works and behaves strongly influences everyone’s business on it.

The App Store is also your storefront which, for some time now, strongly favors early comers and big-budget apps not interested in earning money.

The App Store is also a dominant discovery truck where it fails spectacularly due to its abysmal catalog search.

The fact that there’s no viable way to re-monetize your existing customer base [such as upgrade pricing] severely limits available business options.

All of these things are true. In many respects, the App Store is hostile to individual developers. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the App Store the way that it is, not as we would like it to be. In the end we have two choices: compete in the App Store despite its hostility, or get out.

Yes, we should recognize the limitations of the App Store and suggest improvements, but we can’t count on those improvements being implemented. Most of the complaints that Aleksandar raises above have been pointed out time and time again over a span of years. And yet these limitations remain.

And yes, we should study the App Store so that we can better understand its behavior. Understanding the quirks of, for instance, the App Store’s broken search algorithm can help us optimize our App Store presence. But what happens when Apple changes that search algorithm? What would happen to all the apps with keyword optimized titles if Apple decided tomorrow to penalize apps with “spammy” titles in search results? Building your business based on the quirks of the App Store is like building on sand. You’ll never have a strong foundation beneath you.

So if the App Store has all these problems that Apple has shown no interest in fixing, and if it’s not safe to build our business based on the quirks that the App Store happens to have today, then what’s left?

What’s left are the fundamentals of running a business. Carefully choose a market that will pay for the value you provide. Plan from the beginning to market your app outside the App Store. Use the permissible payment methods to engineer recurring revenue into your app. What’s left is building your business on only those aspects of the App Store that you can rely on – payment processing and software delivery. Essentially, what’s left is treating the App Store as merely your delivery truck.

Posted on July 9, 2015

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As tends to happen in regular cycles in our community, there has recently been another bout of handwringing over the difficulty of making it as an indie. Brent Simmons kicked this one off in his well written piece titled Love. And I don’t mean to make light of his piece. If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to read it. It encapsulates well a lot of the emotional angst that many independent developers are feeling about their businesses right now. Things aren’t as easy as they once were – especially in the App Store. As everyone in this business knows, supply is up (there are hundreds of thousands more apps in the App Store than there were just a few years ago), and prices are down. The App Store is no longer the land of milk and honey that it once was. As a result, we complain about it. A lot.

“The App Store is hostile to indie developers.”

“People won’t pay money for apps on the App Store.”

“The App Store should do more to help customers discover my app.”

But you know what? We developers need to get over it and stop blaming the App Store for our business troubles, because when it comes down to it, the App Store has only two purposes: credit card processing and software delivery. That’s it. Yeah, I know the App Store was originally sold to developers as a marketing channel, but it hasn’t been that for many years.

Today, the App Store is basically your delivery truck that takes cash on delivery. We wouldn’t blame a delivery truck for our business failure. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not a delivery truck’s responsibility to ensure that there’s a market for our products. That’s what market research is for. It’s not a delivery truck’s responsibility to advertise our products or introduce them to customers. That’s what marketing is for. And it’s not a delivery truck’s responsibility to prop up prices in the market place. That’s just not it’s role.

So the next time you hear a developer complaining about the App Store, mentally replace “the App Store” with “my delivery truck” before evaluating the reasonableness of the complaint. As I think you’ll see, most complaints about the App Store just don’t hold water.

My delivery truck is hostile to my business.”

“People won’t pay for apps on my delivery truck.”

My delivery truck should do more to help customers discover my app.”

Instead of blaming the delivery truck for our business problems, we need to double down on the business side of our software businesses. We need evaluate the market for an app before building it. We need to go to where our customers are and market our products outside the App Store. We need to research whether customers would actually pay a sustainable price for our app – before we even open Xcode. We need to take responsibility for our own success and our own failure and stop blaming the delivery truck for our problems.

Note: I’ve posted a follow-up to this article titled, My Delivery Truck (2nd Delivery Attempt).

Posted on July 2, 2015

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