Marketing Costs and Overcast’s Sales Numbers

Marco Arment has published profit and loss numbers for his podcast app Overcast:

It had a perfect launch that far exceeded my expectations — it was the best launch an indie developer could possibly hope for, with tons of great press, a mid-level App Store feature, and thousands of tweets on launch day.

I’m happy that Overcast has been so successful. Marco clearly poured his usual amount of scrutiny into the app, as shown by things like advanced audio features and its excellent sharing tools. It was a feature-rich 1.0. His success is deserved.

But I was perplexed by his description of Overcast’s expenses:

Expenses are relatively low, with total server and hosting costs at about $750 per month. (For comparison, my family’s health insurance costs almost twice that.)

The biggest expense in 2014 was a trademark-coexistence agreement to use the Overcast name that cost about $12,000, and I believe the name was worth the cost.

His list of expenses leave out one really big thing: marketing. Through hard work and good fortune, Marco is a well-known figure among many of Overcast’s potential customers. This kind of exposure would be expensive for the average indie developer to replicate. For example, ongoing discussions of Overcast on the ATP podcast (before, during, and after the 1.0 launched) would have cost thousands of dollars — at least $3750 per episode. To a certain extent, the coverage and good will conveyed during those episodes can’t be bought for just $3750. Promoted tweets that reach 78,000 interested Twitter followers wouldn’t be cheap, either, relative to $160K in revenue. Overcast also benefitted from numerous conversational mentions from friends of Marco’s like John Gruber, who carry a lot of weight behind their recommendations.

Perhaps Marco intentionally left out these things because he was worried about sounding like a jerk. I’m having a hard enough time writing this article as a third-party without sounding like a douchebag, so I can appreciate the backlash he might endure if he mentioned them directly. I don’t want my words to be misunderstood, so I’ll say it again for emphasis: Overcast is a polished, feature-rich app. Marco’s success is deserved.

Despite the risk of Marco sounding like a jerk, it would have been helpful to the average indie developer to be explicit about the marketing advantages Marco has built for himself over the years. As folks like Charles Perry and Joe Cieplinski continually remind us, many iOS developers fail to appreciate how and why to “do marketing.” One thing to me is clear, after having failed to turn Unread into a sustainable business: it takes a lot more than excellent design and development to make a living.

|  16 Jan 2015