Recently my iPad diary app Remembary crossed a few milestones - version 1.4 came out a few weeks ago, with some (if I may say so) exciting and cool new features, and it also hit a notable revenue milestone (which I'll get to later). This seems like a good time to talk in more detail about how things have worked out so far.
I built Remembary because I wanted to learn iOS programming, and I wanted to have a digitally-enhanced diary on my iPad. Most importantly, after years of selling my services as a developer, I wanted to have a product and learn all about production, pricing, promotions, and customer service. I had heard a lot about the App Store marketplace and I wanted to see for myself how it all worked, and whether there was actually any money in it.
I've read numerous articles and blog posts from app developers about their experiences in the App Store, but almost all of these have suffered from selection bias: developers are more likely to write about their successes, and success stories often get more attention from the press, Twitter, and/or Hacker News and are thus more likely to reach me.
Remembary has been moderately successful as iPad apps go: it has had some good reviews from major review sites, it has been (lightly) featured in several countries' App Stores, and the people who have used it seem to like it quite a bit. But it certainly hasn't become a solid top ten contender, and I still make a lot more money out of my consulting work than I do out of Remembary.
So, as an extra data point for people who are interested in this kind of thing, here's how Remembary has done:
Remembary came out in mid October of 2010, and in the ten months since then it has made just over $2000. This comes to about $48 / week, or just under $7 / day.
Compared to iPhone apps, iPad apps are still a niche. Diary apps are also something of a niche - they're not like quick impulse buy video games or utilities. I'm actually not too disappointed in these numbers. I gather that the average iOS app makes about $600, so Remembary is actually on the right side of the curve.
There are certainly apps making a lot more money than Remembary - in fact I'm sure there are iPad diary apps that are making a lot more money than Remembary. However, there are also many more making less.
Here are the weekly sales, once again straight from AppFigures.
Remembary had a brief hike in sales when it first came out, presumably from friends and family buying copies. In the following weeks sales slowed down to less than one a day - in one week in late November Remembary sold no copies at all.
In late December, I tried promoting Remembary with Facebook and AdWords ads - as you can see, these had little effect.
Then in January, Remembary got a really nice review from AppAdvice.com - that's the giant spike. It's even more dramatic if you look at daily sales: On Monday January 24th, Remembary sold 1 copy and made $1.40, on Tuesday January 25th, Remembary sold 2 copies and made $2.54 - and on Wednesday January 26th, it sold 122 copies and made $167.
The spike lasted about three days day and made more money for Remembary than all of its previous sales combined: about $400. The thing is, it was a spike. On February 2, Remembary only sold 2 copies again.
This wasn't the only effect though: a week or so later an upgrade to Remembary was featured in the "What's Hot" and "New & Notable" sections of the Canadian and Worldwide App Stores.
The dream of all iOS apps is to be given the full "big header" feature treatment in the US store. This wasn't that - instead, it was an icon showing up in Canada and in a lot of smaller markets handled by the same curatorial team. It still made about $300 or so.
In March I submitted an updated version of Remembary, and AppAdvice were kind enough to do a follow-up posting with a promo code giveaway. This prompted over 100 comments (unfortunately lost when they changed comment providers) and another spike in sales, making another $300.
Every time there was a spike in sales, the new base level afterwards was a bit higher than before. Instead of 5 sales a week, there were 15 or 20 sales a week.
In May, Remembary got a decent (4 stars) review from 148Apps.com - this didn't cause a huge sales spike like the AppAdvice one, although this might also have to do with Remembary costing more ($2.99 instead of $1.99).
A few weeks after that review, Remembary finally got featured in the US App Store, in a special "Graduation Day" section. It was still a small icon, and required scrolling to be seen, but it still earned the app another $300.
Since then, there haven't been any big review or feature events for Remembary. I focused my energy on new features for Remembary 1.4 instead of promotions, so sales slowed down a lot - in early July back to the 5 a week rate of late 2010.
Once 1.4 came out, the sales have picked up quite a bit. This is the bump at the far right. I also raised the price, which hasn't impacted the sales numbers much but has incresed the revenue.
The obvious thing here is: the key to getting sales is to get noticed by an app review site. Getting a favourable mention in AppAdvice can really change things. 148Apps is still good, but perhaps less so. Remembary hasn't been mentioned in any really big sites like Engadget or Wired or BoingBoing, so it's hard to know how much bigger the attention can be.
I also noticed that I was featured in app stores usually a week or so after a major review. This is a sample size of two, so it's hard to really say if it's a real pattern. It's certainly clear, though, that the app store curators pay attention to the review sites.
App Store features are the other big deal. But I also learned that a small feature in the US store can be as valuable as a major feature in a smaller market.
The value of a feature really varies by section and country. In fact, Remembary has been in the top 10 of "What's Hot" in the Lifestyle section of the Canadian iPad App Store (often above Martha Stewart and Mario Batali) since January, and there have still been days when Remembary hasn't sold a single copy.
You 'only' get sales figures from Apple daily, but ranking numbers are released hourly. Unless you're solidly in the top ten, you can actually see individual sales as peaks in the app rankings, which gradually slide back down over time. Here's a chart from the last few days:
You can see a few sales in the US store in the last few days in purple and green - because the US is a busy market, the rankings drop off over just a few hours. With other countries it's a different matter:
The big peak in the Canadian rankings on the left came from selling two copies of Remembary in the same hour on August 2nd. The big peak on the right (in hard-to-see light green) are from selling ONE copy in Mexico - this instantly put Remembary into the #13 top grossing lifestyle spot in that country, and several days later it's still #59.
This underlines how much more sales activity happens in the US than anywhere else, at least for the iPad. It also shows that the iPad still has a long way to go in terms of market penetration in the rest of the world outside of the US.
Speaking of Sales By Country
My top selling countries are:
United States: 612 sales, $1119.22
Canada: 160 sales, $292.60
U.K.: 53 sales, $73.47
Russia: 34 sales, $67.62 (only two reviews in their store, both 1 star)
Australia: 27 sales, $55.31 (only two reviews in their store, both 5 stars)
Germany: 19 sales, $29.17
I've done a lot of experimenting with the price of Remembary. When I've run out of promotional ideas and sales have been slow, I've dropped the price to $0.99, just to get a few sales to make myself feel better - but the boost in sales only seems to be from sites that track apps that drop their prices, so it's the change of price rather than the lower price itself that makes the difference.
With the release of Remembary 1.4.1, I actually raised the price to $3.99, and sales have still been strong. I'm a big believer in the Chivas Regal effect. Also, my worst reviews seem to have come from when the app was cheapest.
It's hard to estimate exactly how much it cost to make Remembary - since by far the biggest expense would have been the development time, but I did that myself for "free". I was also learning as I built the app, so it took more hours than it would have if I started now. I also didn't track my time like I would for a paying customer.
That said, I think there's at least $10,000 worth of development time in Remembary - probably more like $20,000 or even more.
The biggest real expense that went into the app itself was for graphic design, which came to about $1380, including licenses for fonts and icon sets.
I also spent several thousand dollars on various promotions, including completely useless Facebook and AdWords ads.
So if you include advertising, Remembary is still well into the red. If I had had to pay someone else for development, it's very far from profitable.
If you want to get really rich really fast, an iPad diary app is not likely to be your best route. For example, one of my Toronto friends made 4 times as much money in half the time doing a custom theme for Shopify.
That said, I'm not really in this for the quick payout. I make a pretty good living from my freelance development work, especially now that I've been able to add iOS to my skillset. It's good to make money in your sleep, though - and waking up to see I've made an extra $12 means I can eat out for lunch more often.
As I've said elsewhere, the App business is a longer game than people think. Most big successes I've seen came after a year or more of work.
Now that I've seen how things work for iPad apps, I'm really interested to see how they work for iPhone apps. There are a lot more devices out there, and a lot more sales potential, but also a lot more competition.
I'm planning a full price universal version of Remembary for the fall, as well as a stripped-down $0.99 iPhone-only impulse buy utility version. I'm really curious to see how those work out.