The value of apps

Dan Edwards:

Recently Tweetbot 4 was released as a cross-platform update that’ll work on iPad & iPhone. Right now (at 50% off), it’s a $4.99/£3.99 app. Regardless of whether you bought the old Tweetbot recently, or at all.

Some people were pretty angry about this.

It’s amazing how people feel entitled to free updates for life. Does paying once for an app justify such support?

Dan Edwards makes a great point in the rest of his article, “What’s worse than paid app updates?” The answer is fairly simple (and mentioned toward the end of the article): People who complain about paid app updates.

But why? Why shouldn’t a user get free updates on an app for life?

It comes down to what is the actual value of an app. To users, in a world of low cost or free apps, even paying $0.99 is more than generous at times. Those users either forgot or are too young to even know of the time when users would pay money, sometimes $20 or more, every year for updates to their programs. And that money would go to the companies that created those programs.

A lot of the apps users enjoy, though, don’t come from large corporations. Many apps are made by small development teams, like Tweetbot’s developers Tapbots. Others are made by an individual developer, such as Overcast by Marco Arment. These people aren’t working on a salary. They don’t have steady income while working on these applications. For them, these apps represent all of the hard work they have done. While they want happy users, they also want to support themselves and their families with their apps. And while there typically is a large spike in terms of purchases and downloads when an app is launched, that quickly disappears into a much lower regular amount.

Earlier this year, Marco Arment posted Overcast’s 2014 sales numbers. After Apple took their 30% cut, and before taxes and expenses, it made $164,134 in revenue. Granted, this is for an app that was released in July of that year, so that revenue is over six months. But that app wasn’t written overnight. Marco had begun work in the spring of 2013. Making back that much money in 2014, with half of it in the first month, sounds reasonable after spending at least twelve months of work writing the app, let alone work on future features and bug fixes. But after that first month spike, income is much lower per month, hovering between $10,000 and $20,000. That’s just above what a developer of Marco’s experience might make on salary. And that is to support a family of three.

Now, Tapbots has released Tweetbot 4. Yet, people are complaining that they have to pay again for an app that they previously had already paid for. There is a very obvious point that those people fail to consider: it has been two years since Tweetbot 3 was released. As stated earlier, the first month of sales was likely the highest income period for Tapbots. After two years, they’re likely making a fraction of that each month. So, when deciding on releasing a new version that not only updates from Tweetbot 3 on the iPhone but also replaces Tweetbot 2 on the iPad, which is even older, what makes more sense? Working on something for free that likely won’t help pay for the bills of the three person team, or charging for all of the work that they put into this new update?

Dan Edwards’ hypothetical situation:

Scenario: An existing client approaches you for a re-design and build of their website. You worked on their first one, they paid you for it and you get a small fee that just about covers your costs for regular maintenance of their existing site. You also have several hundred emails and tweets per week about the current site, asking you for support and not paying extra for it.

After several meetings, phone calls and back and forths you realise the scale of the project. You’ll need to bring in 2 further developers to help you build this thing and it’ll take 8 months.

Ok, so let’s get to work.

One slight problem.

The client doesn’t want to pay you for this work.

Would you work for free in that scenario? Probably not. But that’s what people upset about app pricing are asking for.

Tweetbot 4 took eight months to create. If you worked without being paid for eight months, would you be okay with that?

I didn’t think so.

Source: Medium