Since posting yesterday’s article about the numbers behind Unread’s first year on the App Store, several people have asked me why I didn’t do any promotion for Unread. The answer is that, in fact, I scrounged up as much promotion as I could afford. I did not just naively dump my app on the App Store and expect the bucks to start spilling through the mail slot.
Here’s a list of the promotional activities supporting Unread (both iPhone and iPad), either directly by me or through good fortune:
- Promoted tweets on Twitter accompanying the launch of Version 1.2. $400.
- Promoted tweets on Twitter accompanying the launch of Unread for iPad. $200.
- A week-long RSS sponsorship on Shawn Blanc’s blog (which also included an ad on Tools & Toys). $700.
- Numerous podcast interviews.
- Through their generosity, lots of influential bloggers reviewed Unread for iPhone and iPad, sometimes several times.
- Here on my site, a behind-the-scenes blog series detailing the design process behind Unread for iPad.
- Both Unread for iPhone and Unread for iPad were featured on the main pages of their respective App Stores. Both continue to be featured in the News categories.
- Apple’s social media team also featured Unread on some of their Facebook and Twitter campaigns.
- Countless word-of-mouth interactions on Twitter. A signification number of my customers tweet positive comments about Unread on a daily basis.
- Shaping the new features in subsequent updates to meet the most popular demands from existing users and fans.
- Release notes laden with so many hidden jokes and references that they were worth tweeting about all by themselves.
Did Unread already have a significant amount of competition on the App Store? Yes. But I defy you to name a category on the store that doesn’t already have lots of competition. Could I have done a better job of marketing my app, use different screen shots, etc? Perhaps.
Arguments that I naively built and marketed an RSS reader in 2014 aren’t relevant to the heart of my article. Any polished app — in any category, with any amount of marketing or promotion — is a lottery. Increasing the marketing budget is just as likely to increase the potential losses as it is to increase potential sales. Each niche is an apple or an orange. It’s all a gamble.
The lesson to be learned from Unread is that even if you keep your costs low and your quality high, the immense scale of the App Store — 100 million credit cards — is deceptive. From the outside one might assume that an indie dev with a quality product could “fail” her way to a sustainable paid-up-front app business. The reality is that App Store sales patterns rarely support such a developer. True fans will buy her quality app within the first few days, then never give her any money again. The rest of her time will be spent trying to convince a few more users to become true fans, repeating the same short-lived, one-time purchase until she goes out of business.