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Donkeys and Pickaxes

by John Casasanta
August 4, 200826 comments

iPhone App Store sales figures & some thoughts…

“Thar’s gold in them thar hills!”

We’ve gotten our sales reports from Apple for the iPhone App Store. And we’re going to take a fairly bold step and share our numbers with you.

But first I want to give you a little background about me and why I decided to do this…

Note: If you want to skip ahead to the meat of the post, just click here.

For those of you who don’t know me, in one of my other lives I’m one of the people who runs MacHeist, the #1 Mac software promotion site. At MacHeist we’ve sold over $3,000,000 dollars worth of discounted software bundles in less than two years of existence and raised over $750,000 for various charities.

And one of the factors that’s helped the business do so incredibly well is because of our transparency where we make our numbers public. But tap tap tap is an entirely different kind of business.

MacHeist counter

Why’d I want to do this for tap tap tap?

On July 10th, the day before the “official” launch of the App Store, the store went live. It was both chaotic and exciting. We were kind of like pioneers and we were extremely relieved that we were able to get our apps out there for launch day.

We watched things like hawks as much as we could’ve throughout the day. Even though we’re veterans when it comes to Mac software, we’re now newbies in the iPhone app realm. And we did as most newbies do… we obsessed over our server stats and constantly checked the Top 25 list to see how we were doing. We weren’t expecting to get actual sales numbers for a month or so. So we knew we’d be in the dark for a while as far as actual, solid numbers were concerned.

But during the day, I noticed something… in the App Store on the iPhone itself, but not in iTunes: if you tapped on an app listing and scrolled to the bottom of it, there was a “download count” there.

This was actually pretty obvious for freeware… meaning it was, um, the download count.

But it was also listed for PAID apps! There’s no trial period for apps in the App Store so this could’ve only meant that Apple was making our sales figures public! Like WTF!?

“Thar just mights be a future in them thar iPhone apps”

The figures were bouncing around wildly that day, both going up and down. We just figured that Steve forced Phil Schiller to manually post all the updates and he was just having a hard time coping.

If I recall correctly, at around 10pm I saw that Where To had around 800 “downloads” while Tipulator had around 200. More interesting was that Super Monkey Ball, being in the #1 slot, had around 11,000!

But not long after this, something happened: all the download counts dropped to zero!

And they stayed there… no more fluctuations.

Apple must’ve realized that they made a huge blunder here. So they seemed to pull the plug as soon as they could’ve “fixed” it without actually shutting the whole App Store down.

Why people don’t usually talk about sales

There seems to be this taboo among developers regarding sharing sales figures. It’s pretty rare that one of us will make the figures public and the one person I can think of who’s done this is Jesse Grosgean of Hog Bay Software.

So why is this? The two reasons I can think of are envy and gloating… if you’re doing well and people know about it, it’s human nature that some people will become envious (trust me, I know this from dealing with MacHeist’s success).

Johnadillo

And on the other hand, if you’re doing poorly and others know of it, some will tend to gloat over your misfortune.

It’s all unfortunate but it’s the way the world works. And it makes people reluctant to share details like the ones I’m about to share with you here. Thankfully, I’ve been doing the indie thing long enough to have developed thick, spiny exoskeleton.

“Answer the question, Claire”

Ok, so back to my original question, “What made me want to do this for tap tap tap?”

When Apple put the apparent sales figures out there for the public to see, I was a bit surprised, but also happy to see them. I figured that this was just how it was going to be so we’d better get used to it quickly.

But when I saw that Apple pulled the numbers, I was disappointed. I was curiously fascinated by the information I briefly gained access to. And I’m sure that anyone else who realized what was going on with these numbers was equally fascinated.

So we’re putting those figures back up for you to see, at least for our apps.

Developers can learn a lot from both the successes and failures of their colleagues. Hopefully us being open here will help us all gain a better understanding of our businesses.

The part you’ve actually been waiting for…

Here’s the breakdown for our most recent week of sales:

Note: Even though Apple made it seem like sales reports since the launch of the App Store should be available to us now, we only have the data for the days shown here. As soon as we have more data, I’ll update this post with all the numbers going back to day 1. I’m assuming the wildest numbers will be for the first few days.
Follow-up, August 13: Instead of editing this post as I had originally planned, I decided that it made more sense write a new post with the final numbers instead.

Where To?

Where To?
  • what it is: makes your iPhone behave more like a real GPS device by helping you find points of interest around you
  • price: $2.99
  • number sold: 3,193
  • gross sales: $9,547.07
  • more info: at the App Store

Tipulator

Tipulator
  • what it is: the tip calculator that’s actually fun to use
  • price: 99¢
  • number sold: 353
  • gross sales: $349.47
  • more info: at the App Store

It’s pretty obvious that Where To made up the bulk of the income by far.

It’s interesting to note that Tipulator ranks in the top 10 in its category (finance), yet it’s doing fairly poorly. It reminds me of that thing that goes something like “5% of the population earns 95% of the money”.

So, the total sales for both apps was $9,896.54 and after Apple took their 30% cut we ended up with $6,927.58 for the 7 day period. Multiply this by 52 and it works out to around $360,000 for the year, assuming things stay the same. Not too shabby at all.

And here’s how it all broke down on a daily basis:

The Chart

For a little comparison, on the day I launched iClip years ago, I had 3 sales. Yes, you read that right… three. It took me well over a year of selling iClip to match the sales numbers we’re getting here in just a couple of days. Granted, iClip sold for a lot more ($14.95 to $19.95 in the beginning) than the $2.99 and 99¢ that we’re selling these apps for here. But it’s still easy to see that our iPhone apps are blowing our Mac apps away.

Spikes

If we had full data, you’d likely notice a few spikes in the chart beyond the initial launch…

Tipulator keypad

On July 14th, Macworld gave Tipulator a fairly ass-tastic review.

Although we had a nice jump in traffic as a result of the exposure in general, it wasn’t enough to have it reach the charts. Still overall, considering that it was just a couple of design sessions and a few days of programming, Tipulator is doing ok so far.

We have some nice things in the works that should make Tipulator more appealing to the masses, like having a keypad (with the BIGGEST BACKSPACE KEY EVER… don’t mess with that key or you gonna get hurt) as an alternative to the number wheels.

And something that definitely made Where To climb the charts, helping to push it as high as #12, was the decision to do a Daring Fireball RSS ad.

The timing on this was totally perfect… I contacted John Gruber to try to line up something in the future but it turned out that the company that originally had the slot reserved for App Store launch week bailed on him. This left the most desirable slot for an iPhone app developer wide open. So I quickly snagged it.

The ad accounted for two actual major traffic spikes… the first on the day it went live (July 15th) in the Daring Fireball RSS feed and the second when John did the wrap-up post on the site itself (on the 18th).

Daring Fireball

Marketing on the (relatively) cheap

Here’s the other crazy part… Apple is doing most of our marketing for us. This has cost us almost nothing from a marketing perspective.

Take MacHeist for comparison: for MacHeist II our budget ended up being around $250,000.

And for tap tap tap we put out under $2,000: $1,250 for the Daring Fireball ad, around $200 to send a mailing out, and around $300 in iTunes Music Store gift certificates sent to potential reviewers (Apple NEEDS to provide us with a better way of doing this).

gift certificate (declassified)

This is really incredible when you think about it and calculate the margins.

I don’t know if things will stay at these levels, but at least for now it was great to be one of the first companies out the gate with iPhone apps in the App Store. I can’t tell you how surprising it was to hear that veteran Mac developers who had “golden tickets” actually passed on this opportunity, AKA The Cupertino Gold Rush of 2008.

Onward…

So what’s next for us? We have Groceries and I’m Here! in development.

GroceriesI’m Here!

The demand for Groceries is insane as we’ve gotten tons of emails asking us when it’s going to be ready. So there’s a chance that this one could be our big hit if we do it right.

And we have many, many other small and medium sized apps planned. We’ll be announcing and showing teasers for each of them when the time’s right so definitely stay tuned via our news feed or follow us on Twitter.

And of course we have many enhancements planned for Where To and Tipulator.

Even though the App Store has only been up and running for less than a month, it’s been an incredibly exciting experience so far and I’m sure it’s only going to get better.

A call to action for other developers

Hopefully this post inspires developers to be more transparent with their sales figures.

If you’re an iPhone developer (or developer in general) and you post similar sales stats, drop us a line and I’ll link your post up here.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for all of us to gain a much better understanding of our businesses by being much more transparent than we’ve all been in the past. I’m hoping this idea gains traction…

If people are into posts like these, we’ll likely do this regularly… let us know your thoughts in the comments. And if you found it to be useful and you think others will be interested in it, please digg it.

Cabelized!Post title inspired by Mr. Cabel Sasser

tap tap tap is a leading iPhone and iPad app developer and publisher. We’ve been creating top-notch apps since the App Store first opened. Our apps are used by literally millions of people in all corners of the world.

A few of our favorite and most popular apps we’ve created are:


Who linked to this

26 comments

  1. Ryan
    5:18am, August 4, 2008

    Do you have a general date release time frame for Groceries? 6 mo? 2 weeks? Etc.

  2. Mike
    6:55am, August 4, 2008

    Very nice of you to show your sales figures publicly. Hopefully many other developers will follow soon.

  3. Miles Evans
    7:53am, August 4, 2008

    Hey major props on your transparency. Not only is it inspirational to those of us toiling on apps, but it really paints you’re company in a warm light ;)

    I’m surprised Tipulator didn’t sell more but there is a lot of competition in that niche I suppose :/

  4. Kyle
    9:21am, August 4, 2008

    I also appreciate your transparency and hope others will follow suit. Regular updates (probably not more often than monthly though) would be great to read.

    And count me as one of those readily awaiting Groceries.

  5. Cameron
    1:17pm, August 4, 2008

    Loving both your apps so far and REALLY looking forward to Groceries when it’s released!

  6. sikanrong
    1:25pm, August 4, 2008

    Your site design really *REALLY* makes me want sushi :)

  7. Josh Holloway
    5:23pm, August 4, 2008

    I’m really happy to see everything you guys are doing regarding selling apps for the iPhone. I bought both Where To and Tipulator, and I love both of them. I am really looking forward to Groceries, too.

    To see you guys turn a major feature and UI element of one of your apps on its head based on customer and reviewer input is great. And I must comment on the design qualities of your apps, which are all superb. Your apps are definitely in the top 10 best designed apps on the store right now.

    Keep up the good work!

  8. Tanner Christensen
    9:45pm, August 4, 2008

    Love the work you guys are doing – keep it up! I’ve already whipped out Tipulator several times, only to have my company crowd around to watch as I accurate calculate tipping (and distribute it equally among everyone who enjoyed the meal).

    Where To? looks appealing to me, but there are a few negative reviews that make me weary of the price tag. Maybe lowering it a bit (or adding some unique features to the app) would produce more sales.

    Either way, great stuff!

  9. Crumpet
    10:42pm, August 4, 2008

    An interesting post, and it’s certainly refreshing to see this kind of transparency from developers. Would definitely love to see more posts like this,

  10. Dustin
    10:48pm, August 4, 2008

    I’ve been checking your blog several times a week looking for a peek at updates or new releases. What a surprise when I stumbled on this post! Ha, ha.

    Seriously though, I enjoyed the read, and am excited about the future for tap tap tap. I was extremely excited about the announcement of the planned keypad in “Tipulator” (my big fingers can make it challenging to correctly nail the digit on the first try). I was even MORE excited to hear that you guys have an number of other apps in the back of your heads.

    I too was surprised by the numbers for “Tipulator.” I think it’s the best of the tipping apps available on the store (obviously, as I bought it). Like someone said, I think there’s a number of folks out there who will look at whatever garbage UI they are given, as long as it’s free. But don’t fret! Keep putting the effort into these helpful, beautiful apps as you are obviously currently doing, and the crowd will eventually start appreciating it.

  11. Adam
    11:22pm, August 4, 2008

    Groceries looks great. I just hope there’s support to sync it to other copies of Groceries so I can keep the same list on my girlfriend’s iPhone as well as my own.

  12. PXLated
    12:46am, August 5, 2008

    Love the openness – Interesting!!!

  13. Jess Have
    2:12am, August 5, 2008

    Despite not being able to buy an iPhone where I live- yet – I still follow the development and I must say that your apps looks very, very nice. I might snap a Toouch in the meantime just to try out your applications. You are included in my NetNewsWire feeds now! Keep the good stuff coming.

  14. Stan
    7:43am, August 5, 2008

    The 5%/95% observation a variant of the Pareto Principle (see wikipedia). Pareto was an economist who noticed that 80% of the income in Italy went to 20% of the people.

  15. Grover
    8:14am, August 5, 2008

    Personally, I think your pricing is right on the money and a big part of your sales figures. I know that I bought both on a whim just because the price-point was low enough that it was worth three bucks just to try it out. And this is where the iTunes ecosystem works well because I didn’t have never had the “Is this worth the effort to pull out my credit card?” debate.

    A lot of developers seem really stuck on $10 and I really think that’s too much for the majority of what’s out there. So let’s hear it for sane pricing!

  16. Graeme Thickins
    8:24am, August 5, 2008

    Best post I’ve seen so far from any iPhone app developer! Thank you for sharing. We started with a strategy of doing free apps first:
    - myLite
    - myTo-Dos
    followed by two others at 99 cents:
    - Magic 8 Ball by Doapp
    - Whoppie Cushion (which Apple is still sitting
    on – no kidding! despite huge user demand)

    We hope to be announcing some of our numbers soon. Our myLite app quickly surged into the top 10 for several days, and has held in the Top 10-20 for the past week or more. And another new update was just submitted (our second).

    cheers,
    Graeme
    vp marketing
    DoApp Inc.
    http://www.doapps.com
    http://www.twitter.com/doapp

  17. Raj
    11:15am, August 5, 2008

    So, does this mean all of your OTHER apps you’ve been working on will be scuttled in favor of these iPhone apps. Remember iClip, for instance? Maybe a bit of MyDreamApps? Seriously, I think your stuff LOOKS gorgeous, but I feel like I can’t trust getting ANYthing beyond version 1.0.x for my money.

  18. Daniel Rubin
    11:50am, August 5, 2008

    Thank you for sharing. Very interesting post and information.

  19. Jeremy Gilbert
    10:22am, August 6, 2008

    My theory is that sales information is typically not shared because software is hard to price. You want your buyers and the public to focus on reputation, popularity and quality, not on how rich you are getting. Unless is couched in the right angle, as it clearly was here.

    Brilliant marketing, John, and congratulations on the free press! :)

    More thoughts on this here: http://www.springamp.com/20080806/its-fairness-not-greed/

  20. Sam Kass
    1:05pm, August 6, 2008

    My app ChessClock ($3: http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=287026942&mt=8 ) went up on the Apple Store on Monday. In the first day and a half worth of daily reports I’ve gotten about 40 downloads, which (since it’s mid-day) means that I made the $99 App Store dev fee back in about 48 hours.

    I’m finding it much harder to get exposure now that the App Store is a lot more crowded. Unless you get on the Staff Favorites list or buy adds (which is a more crowded market now) you don’t get easily noticed. I’m hoping the new iPhone section of iusethis.com might help.

  21. Raj
    2:11pm, August 6, 2008

    Interesting that my point is being somewhat ignored in the Delicious Generation lovefest going on here. I pose AGAIN, will these micro-payment based micro-apps (for lack of a better moniker) supercede the efforts of these developers’ efforts on apps they already have released? I think Mr. Casasanta is associated or directly in charge of several apps (who, hey, happen to be parts of MacHeists… imagine that!), and as such has an implied duty to either update them or at least let the user base know they’re going to die on the vine compared to these iPhone apps. Just go on VersionTracker or MacUpdate and view the comments of apps like iClip, an app that MacHeist has the gall to include in its bundles when it’s pretty much abandonware at this point.

    Whatever. I bring this up on any one of a dozen different Delicious Gen-based blogs (and wow, root around and you realize this is a very small group, relatively speaking), but no one ever listens.

  22. Elam
    4:38pm, August 6, 2008

    The Ad Hoc distribution method wouldn’t work for potential reviewers?

  23. Steve Murch
    8:56pm, August 6, 2008

    Interested in tying Groceries to an online recipe archive with 165,000+ recipes? If so, please drop me an email. We’re working on an API for searching and displaying recipes. Thanks!

  24. MJWeb
    11:36pm, August 6, 2008

    Very educational blog.

    My thought du jour on the app store is it’s slightly retarded. iTunes 7.1.1 seems more unstable than its predecessor. I now have 201 copies of 40 apps in my Mobile App Directory and iT wants to update the same 10 every time I sync.

    How can you depend on numbers like these, John? The math is hinkey.

  25. Harry Wang
    6:09pm, August 10, 2008

    Any updates on the sales figures – more recent days, going back to the first day?

    I appreciate your transparency!

    Harry “good stuff” Wang

  26. John Wilker
    1:16pm, August 13, 2008

    It’s great to see openness in business. Kudos.

    My biz partner and I practice the same belief in our conference biz.


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