That’s Not How the App Store Works!

Back in June I launched my first major app into the App Store. I had been working on Obscura for close to a year and it was wonderful to finally share it with the world. I spent whatever time I could working on it, in between college work and a fledgeling photographic career. It was a passion project through and through. I couldn’t have been more proud when it launched and the response it got was overwhelmingly positive. Seeing it being used around the world to produce incredible work is just the most incredible feeling. A friend, Kilian McMahon, told me before joining Kickstarter that he only wanted to work somewhere that helped creative people realise their dreams. I was more than a little bit inspired by that.

In its first week Obscura reached around 8000 downloads and pulled in about $350. So, it launched to great success and we all lived happily ever after as we watched the money roll in..

It turns out making money as an independent developer isn’t so trivial. (I was aware of this beforehand, of course. It wasn’t a huge surprise.) I wrote a bit about this back in September. In just under 6 months, Obscura has seen 51,000 downloads, which is amazing and I’m grateful for everyone who’s tried it. But it’s only seen 459 In App Purchases for filters. Which are entirely optional, but intended as a small reward for people who wanted share a few dollars as appreciation. The Patronage Model, more or less. Of course, that probably doesn’t represent 459 unique people who wanted to show their support, as I know some have bought multiple packs of filters. Which tells me that less than 1 in 100 people will donate when given the opportunity.

Obscura got a little bit of a marketing push this week when it was featured on the App Store, a little bit hidden behind behind a “See More >” button on a Best New Apps feature. It was tremendously exciting. It resulted in 8,276 downloads and 10 sales. After Apple’s 30% cut that leaves me with $21. That’s my Christmas bonus.

After almost a year, with hundreds of hours spent designing and building this app from scratch it’s a little disheartening to see that 99% of people don’t value the work enough to share the infamous “price of a cup of coffee”. Which is a shame, but I don’t expect to change that myself.

The thing is, this isn’t news to me, or to anyone following along with the current state of indie development. Everyone finds it hard no matter how they try to make money. And so in light of that, I see no harm in trying something new. With a 6 month experiment over, it’s time to see how many people really value (hopefully) quality software.

It feels odd to be moving against the trend of free apps with IAP features, but I think Obscura is a piece of well designed software that has intrinsic value. There’s been plenty of other successful camera apps that have survived for years. I know Obscura can survive with them. I know with this change that downloads will plummet, but if the same amount of people are willing to pay, I should see a little more income. And I’m optimistic that it’ll do better. If not, I can always try again next year. I don’t expect it to suddenly start generating a huge income, but it would be nice to see it reach something stable that justifies the time I want to spend on it. Fingers Crossed.

I’ll have more data in a few days, I hope it’ll be enlighting for you as much as it will be for me. In the mean time, Obscura is available on the App Store and you can see some of the great work it’s helped produced here.