Thursday, February 3, 2011

theDrumDictionary - The Numbers Post

So, I promised a numbers post about my app theDrumDictionary almost a month ago and still haven't delivered. I'm hear to make good on that promise. I must say up front that I'm no spreadsheet wiz or chart master when it comes to tracking my app sales - I have enough things to worry about when it comes to creating and managing apps, so I like to let other people do my dirty work. When my app first came out, I purchased and downloaded My App Sales and I used it every day. The app began having some issues though after the release of iOS 4. It appears they've been working on this and it may be running just fine by now. Unfortunately, I somehow lost the SVN repository info to be able to check out the latest version from them, so, I haven't been using the app much lately. The new iTunes Connect web interface is a million times better than it was, and they've even released the iOS app for downloading and viewing sales reports, but I still don't care for it too much. The tool that I use most often now - and where all my charts and graphs are coming from, is App Annie. It's a great tool that automatically downloads sales reports and gives you all sorts of nice ways to view the info. Also tracks reviews and ratings, App Store features, and ranks for any and all of your apps. They say they're in open beta, but it's still a really solid, free (for now?) service.

Alright, enough with the introductions, onto the numbers.

Numbers, yay!

This first chart shows the sales numbers for about the first two months of theDrumDictionary. I wasn't using App Annie yet, so unfortunately, these aren't the actual daily numbers, just averages from the weekly reports, but you can see the general trend: about 75 or so on the very first day (again, the graph is averaging this out) with a quick, steady decline down to about 8-10 downloads a day.

Now, two things I want to mention about this: 1) I had absolutely *no* idea what to expect from this app. It was my first foray into the App Store. From what I could make out from the few other devs posting about their sales, that they usually see the biggest sales at the initial release. Not knowing what to expect, I was pretty pleased with my thousand bucks, even though, from a dollars per hour point of view, it certainly wasn't worth the seven months of work I put in. 2) I was sure it was only a matter of time before it dropped down to a couple sales a day, and then eventually to no sales. I mean, it's kind of a niche app, so how many drummers are there really out there who would want this thing?

App Store features

If there was ever any question about the value of being featured by Apple, this next graph should put that to rest. Here's the sales data from the launch, through March of 2010.

That little initial launch sales bump is completely dwarfed by the jump in February when I was lucky enough to get probably the most prominent feature available: New and Noteworthy, for the overall app store. During this week that the app was featured, it actually made it all the way up to number 6 on the music app charts! After this huge boost, I was *sure* it was over; anyone who had any interest in the app would have already seen it, and now the sales would eventually drop back to zero. To my surprise, things leveled off at about 5-7 apps a day for the next  9 months. Until... another New and Noteworthy feature in December, this time in the UK, Ireland, and Canada. Here's the graph of the sales, from launch until now. Overall sales (after Apple's cut) from the first 13 months or so are just under $30,000 USD.

For the time during this feature, theDrumDictionary made it into the top 25 music apps for each of these three countries, and was briefly in the top ten music in Ireland. Pretty easy to see when the features happened, huh? And, just to help show how unbelievable it was to be featured in December 2010, here's a shot of some of the other apps featured at the same time. Recognize any of these??

How'd theDrumDictionary end up in this list? Crazy!!


What's the takeaway from all this?
1) A huge confirmation that the best marketing strategy by far, is to get featured by Apple. How do you do this? Well, here's three easy steps: oh wait...they don't tell you how to get featured. They don't even let you know when you're being featured, you just have to figure it out yourself when your sales report one day is 100 times more than you've ever had before.
2) The US app market is huge compared to so many of the other ones. Throughout this past year, theDrumDictionary has made it onto many of the charts throughout the world, but how does something like this even make sense: on March 3, 2010 theDrumDictionary was the number 3 music app in Argentina, despite having only 9 downloads the previous 30 days? The US store of course isn't the only big market, the UK/Canada/Ireland feature showed the size of those markets too, but the market in many of these countries is incredibly small compared to the US.
3) As everyone already knows, getting on the charts is huge for sales. theDrumDictionary was featured in the US New and Noteworthy for one week, after which sales did drop off a lot. But, it wasn't the drastic drop-off I expected. It was a gradual decline, over several weeks: lower sales = lower chart position = lower exposure = lower sales = ...  I think word-of-mouth plays a huge role in this as well. The more people that have your app, the more other people are going to hear about it, and I think this helped slow down the process of declining back down to 5-7 downloads a day.
4) If you want to get rich, make a game. theDrumDictionary reached number 6 on the music charts with about 500 downloads a day. A number 6 app on the game charts I'm sure has many thousands of downloads a day. But, here's the catch, the *vast* majority of games are not hits. A few people make all the money, while everyone else makes practically nothing. You've got to risk a lot to make a lot. My opinion? A more niche product is not going to make you rich, but with a little luck, it just might be something that's enduring and sustainable. Even with an app that's mostly only for drummers - and more serious drummers who want to learn, at that - a year and two big features later, it's still selling some apps every day. Even without getting featured, I'd take 15-20 bucks a day, steady, over a one-in-thousands chance at getting rich. Multiply that by however many quality apps you are able to get out there, and it just might be something sustainable. That's what I'm hoping anyway, as I work on some more apps!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Starting from scratch/Here goes nothing!

Happy New Year and welcome to my iOS app dev blog. Let's see, how to start my first blog post...well, might as well jump right in and give you a little background about myself and how I got here. A few years ago, I was a graduate student at Lincoln Christian University in Illinois, a part-time worship minister at a Christian church in Springfield, IL and a huge Apple fan. Even though I had never personally owned an Apple computer, I'd used plenty of them. I had a free PC from my job, but I talked my wife into buying a Mac for school and I got the free first generation iPod touch that came with it in the Back-to-School promotion. This was the fall just after the release of iPhone OS 2.0 and the grand opening of the App Store, and what a time that was for developers and users alike! It was so amazing to have so much power and so many apps on that small, thin little device, and just as amazing to hear about the crazy amounts of money some devs were making selling anything from high quality 3D games to fart apps. Ever since I was a high schooler noodling around with the programming capabilities of my TI-83 graphing calculator, I had been interested in software development, and here was my chance to put my skills to work! Only one small problem - a didn't actually know anything. And I mean nothing. For whatever reason, I never delved any deeper into programming than writing a few unit conversion utilities for that calculator. I listened eagerly to the Stevenotes talking about the new App Store, but I didn't know an SDK from an API and couldn't tell you what UIKit was or recognize an Objective-C method call if my life depended on it. At this point, the idea of actually making an app was far from a reality, just a faint idea in the back of my mind that I quickly put aside.
Fast forward about 8 months, and the story was quite different: I had a Mac of my own - a 12" Powerbook G4(!) - from my job, I had downloaded the SDK, and I finally had come up with a great idea for an app! By this point in the App Store's history, the phrase "there's an app for that" was almost universally true. Any idea I or my friends could think of, there was already an app out there, or more likely, a whole slew of apps which meant the market was most likely pretty saturated. I kept reading on blogs that one key to creating a great app was to make an app that you yourself would use, and this is what eventually led me to the idea: there were tons of chord/scale/tuner apps out there for guitarists, but nothing similar for drums - my main instrument. Alright, I had an app idea, on a topic which I knew a lot about, time to learn how to program! I bought Stephen Kochan's Programming in Objective-C 2.0 and dove in headfirst. 7 more months of diligent work in my free time - including countless Google searches, hours spent in the docs and on blogs, way too much time doing all the graphics myself in Photoshop and Illustrator - and out popped my first app just before Christmas 2009: theDrumDictionary. After a few months of 3-5 sales a day, I woke up one morning to see a sales report of 100 sales! I knew it had to be a mistake and didn't really know what to think :)  I came to find out later that day that theDrumDictionary had been featured in the US App Store front page in the New and Noteworthy section! Needless to say, it was a wild ride that week - reached briefly all the way up to #6 on the music charts - and has been quite interesting ever since. There's so much more I could say - and I probably will in other posts - but here's the gist of where I'm at right now, a little over a year after the initial release: theDrumDictionary is now a universal app for iPhone and iPad, I've been experimenting with a free version as advertising, and much to my surprise theDrumDictionary was featured on New and Noteworthy again this past Christmas, this time in the UK, Canada and Ireland! While I've still not managed to earn enough money to truly make a living off of the app, I've got some savings, and I find myself in an interesting position. My wife and I just returned from a six month long internship in Germany. Before we left, we moved out of our apartment, gave up our jobs, etc., and now that we're back I've decided to make the most of this opportunity. With no job to come back to, no long-term commitments, and a bit of money saved up to last for a little while, I'm going to take the plunge and work full time on bringing some of my other app ideas to life. That's what this blog is going to be about. I'll reflect a little on the past year, hopefully giving some resources and tips that can help others starting from scratch like myself, and track the development of some of my new ideas. For anyone who happens to stumble onto this blog, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer: as you know if you read this post, I'm still a total n00b when it comes to programming. If I post some code on here and it helps you out, great! If you look at it and think, "what a freakin' mess!" then I'd be so thankful to hear your tips and feedback. I've learned so much from blogs I feel like I need to at least try to give a little back, but I must confess I'm not too confident in my abilities! Hopefully this blog will be a good exercise in personal development in this regard, and just maybe, I can help someone else out a little bit too. Thanks for reading this ridiculously long post! Coming up soon: a numbers post about the past year in the life of theDrumDictionary and my recent experiments with a free version...