Will indie app developers starve and die?

There’s an article on imore.com about popular apps making the money:

When I released Calendar Paste on the App Store I didn’t want to scare customers away. So I picked the 99¢ price tier. More than a year later I finally had the guts to raise the price and see what happens — emotional reasons all the way down. Had I not sold a copy for, say, $5, I would’ve learned something while maybe still making no money, the same state I was in before. Only I poured my self-esteem into the app and hoped for a miracle.

Wannabe indie developers like me from a few years back might auffer from this. But established indie teams or studios like Panic Inc., OmniGroup, DEVONtechnologies, AgileTortoise, FlyingMeat, Tyler Hall, …? I can’t tell what they feel, but they seem to do fine. Yet addicting games on the App Stores with consumables

So Rene Ritchie says the middle class of developers are suffering from conditions Apple could technically change, but doesn’t. His argument is sound: Apple is making money anyway, so why bother? IAP are a good business for Apple, too. There’s no inherent need to change the Mac or iOS App Store to give power to the productivity app developing indies out there.

Except that these apps make the platforms so great. What would modern task managers look like if there had never been OmniFocus or, before that, OmniOutliner with lots of AppleScripts to make it suitable for Getting Things Done®? The Mac and the iPhone and iPad is so appealing because the great hardware supports amazing software.

So you want to become a software developer and make a living.

What are your choices?

You go enter the iOS App Store with your cool app idea and try to compete for attention in this warehouse of software where popular stuff is featured and you, the nobody, the newcomer, have to make a stand.

Or you try the same in the Mac App Store because it’s less popular and each app license can cose way more without offending prospects.

Or you ditch the App Stores and create your own shop. (That only works with Mac apps, not with iOS apps, obviously.)

Brent Simmons is still a fan of Mac development. And his advice is great. Have faith and go on to get better. Build an audience.

Without a blog where you attract likeminded people, how could you even start making a dent, how could you find your first interested users who’d like to become customers?

You don’t. No matter where you put your apps for sale. You need an audience or a well-working network of people who can help you get traction.

So if you have to build a platform first anyway, why should you choose the Mac App Store over your own shop? Because the MAS makes it easy for customers, sure. But is buying software from well-designed web shops so much harder than buying software on the App Store? I don’t think so, at least if your audience isn’t people who have no clue about how to operate their Macs. Or if you make a weird impression and people don’t trust you. Entering credit card details is always a bit risky, after all. This is a potential issue. But the numbers don’t indicate that it counts.

You give away 30% of revenue to Apple with each sale. If you use FastSpring (like I do, and I love their service), you shave off less than 9% per sale. You have to lose quite a lot of customers to make this a problem.


I believe that we can make a living with our software on the Mac. It takes time, effort, and money to npt starve in the meantime. But it’s possible. It’s not hard to do technically — I wrote a book about how. Have a look and see for yourself that the Mac App Store is not the only option. It’s just the costly but convenient alternative to what people did for decades.