The dignified death of Phoneys and what it can teach us about the iMessage App Store

For 8 straight days, Phoneys was the #1 paid app in the iMessage App Store. On the 9th (yesterday), while still #1, Apple pulled it.

At least it went out on top.

Last Friday, when I first wrote about Phoneys, I said I was faced with a difficult decision and wasn’t sure what I was going to do. But, really, the best choice was always pretty obvious. By not updating Phoneys before yesterday’s deadline and forcing Apple to pull it, everyone that bought the stickers will still be able to use them as is until they decide to delete them.

You’d have done the same thing.

But, even though Phoneys is as dead as all those predictions that 2016 would be “the year of the bot”, the iMessage App Store is alive and thriving. And at not even 4 weeks old there’s a lot we still don’t know about it. So, I thought it’d be useful to publicly go into Phoneys’ numbers and see what they can teach us about the current state of the iMessage App Store.

Sales

Since Apple pulled Phoneys at midnight PDT on October 5th, I think these numbers are up-to-date. 33,269 total sales, $34,142.84 total revenue, $23,206.15 in profits after Apple’s cut. I’ll make some extrapolations based off these numbers in just a minute.

Highlights:

Impressions & Product Page Views

App store impressions are when a user views your app’s icon. Phoneys’ 8 days at #1 Top Paid and Top Grossing are what drove this number so high. Product page views are how many times a user tapped into Phoneys’ App Store page after viewing the icon, or came in from an outside link. So, while the conversion from app store impression to product page view is only 6.35%, the conversion rate from product page view to purchase was a much higher 27.61%.

Referrals

The Mocksy landing page for Phoneys, linked to directly in a lot of the press coverage, was by far the biggest referrer and driver of sales. And conversion rates were a lot higher for people coming in from an article than coming in through the iMessage App Store home screen.

Extrapolations

  • Right now, depending on the day of the week, 1,000–1,500 sales a day will make your app #1 Top Paid in the iMessage App Store.
  • Around $2,500-$3,000 dollars in sales a day will make your app #1 Top Grossing in the iMessage App Store.
  • Being featured on the iMessage App Store home screen will get your app around 150,000-200,000 impressions a day, but unless you’re on the top paid or top free chart, it won’t drive very many conversions (I’ve talked to several folks whose stickers are currently being featured that back this up).
  • Apple is approving damned near everything in order to get a lot of stickers into the store in a short amount of time. They know most will sell next to nothing, so they’re not spending much time reviewing them. Only when something gets popular, like Phoneys did, are they looking at it. I can’t even begin to imagine how many artists are, as I type this, having their work stolen and made into some asshole’s garbage.
  • Unless you have a really compelling concept and are driving a lot of people in from outside the App Store — a good example of this other than Phoneys is Grammar Snob — or are connected to a large brand with a built-in audience, it’s going to be tough to make decent money with stickers. The press attention from my Medium post and the compelling story around its upcoming App Store ban made Phoneys an outlier.

Miscellaneous takeaways

  • The fact that Apple currently drives people to the regular App Store when they’re on their device and click on a link for an iMessage app, instead of the iMessage App Store, confuses the hell out of people. I replied to hundreds of support emails with a link to this YouTube video by MacRumors. In the future, I hope Apple not only drives people directly into the iMessage App Store from a link, but also greatly reduces the number of taps it takes to find and install a sticker pack or iMessage app. (Update: Brian Mueller pointed out on Twitter that you can link directly to the iMessage App Store by appending “?app=messages” to the end of a link. This won’t solve all the confusion, because people will still be able to buy stickers in the regular App Store, but it’s a start. Thanks Brian!)
  • For now, regular folks have no idea you can peel and place stickers. They just tap and send. Again, that MacRumors video was the main way I helped people understand what peeling a sticker meant. If your stickers get popular, save yourself some trouble and make a short video showing them in use and put it up on YouTube.
  • Most of my negative reviews were from people confused about one or both of the above points. After buying Phoneys they couldn’t find it, even in a Spotlight search, so they assumed I’d done something wrong. And when they tapped to send instead of peeled and placed, they got mad because they thought that meant it didn’t do what I said it did (it’s pretty amazing how many people immediately jump to “you scammed me” in a support email).
  • People like animated stickers a lot more than they like static stickers.
  • Most sticker packs are pulling in $0.00 right now. They’re so easy to make that people are putting dozens of them into the store at a time. So don’t think you can just drop your creative genius into the store and sit back while the Washingtons roll in. Quality is currently hard to find, so make something great — preferably animated — and then promote the hell out of it.
  • Most people don’t want to pay for stickers. If Apple ever makes In App Purchases easy for sticker packs, so that you can give the first dozen away and charge a little for the rest — like Sticker Pals is currently doing, but they’ve built an entire app wrapper around their stickers to make it all work — it would be huge.
  • Just because you’re making a silly little sticker pack doesn’t mean the landing page isn’t important. Especially if they’re paid. The landing page for Phoneys was the greatest driver of direct sales, and almost half the people that came in from the landing page purchased it.

Hope this was helpful. It was a fun week, and I’m bummed that it’s over, but I’m also so super thankful to everyone who helped make it happen.

I’m bullish on the iMessage App Store. Hundreds of millions of people use iMessage every day and Apple has given us all a huge opportunity to tap into that market.

And while I won’t be working on Phoneys 2 anytime soon, if you have a sticker idea or a large built-in following that you’re looking to make stickers for — anybody know Casey Neistat? — please contact me. And if you’d like monthly-ish email updates about stickers, the state of the iMessage App Store, and what I’ll be up to next, subscribe to the Mocksy newsletter or follow me on Twitter.