An Indie Developer View On 'That 30%'

I had a lively discussion at my day-time place of employment about the Mac App Store, and in my case, the iOS App Store and the whole concept of Apple keeping 30% of the sale for themselves.  One of the trolls in the discussion deplored the idea that Apple would be able to keep almost a third of the sale of software it didn't write, even if they are providing a place for centralized software distribution.

I guess I took the bate and pretty much summed it up with this:

As an indie developer, doing the math of app store development is pretty easy.  Getting 100% of 0 sales @ $0.99 = $0.  So in the end, getting 70% of thousands of sales @ $0.99 is actually pretty good.

But let's break it down even more for what Apple really is providing.  First, as the troll mentions, they're providing a centralized distribution channel.  This is quite nice, actually, especially when you look at the Android marketplaces (yes, plural) and the fragmentation that comes with handset makers and carriers because of the 'open' nature of Android.  Having a single place to get apps is not only great for end users, but it is really nice for developers, too.

But there are a lot of other benefits as well.  Take for example, bandwidth costs.  When thinking about distribution, I don't have to worry about hosting costs, availability of the distribution channel, and adequate bandwidth for people who download my app.  Next, marketing.  If you make a pretty awesome app (that others recognize as being so) the app store does a pretty good job of taking care of that for you as well.  I don't have to go buy advertising, I don't have to bribe someone to give me a favorable review in some online publication, and most of all, I don't have to eat fixed costs, like for physical media distribution, that are there whether I sell something or not.

That in and of itself is very beneficial to developers.  But is it worth 30%?  Maybe, maybe not.  But also consider this, more than any other factor for influencing a decision to go through Apple's pearly white gates of distribution, there is the factor of exposure.  Take MacHeist, one of the most successful application bundling programs out there.  Indies have leveraged this to promote their apps and get the exposure in people's minds that otherwise wouldn't have been there.  If you have a minute, read this article that includes quotes from MacHeist participants themselves.

All this bringing me back full circle to my original argument: Getting 100% of 0 sales @ $0.99 = $0.  So in the end, getting 70% of thousands of sales @ $0.99 is actually pretty good.

If only getting 70% of something isn't good enough for you, take your app and play elsewhere.  You might be successful, you might not.  But for this indie developer, while it would be nice to get that 30% back, it's a price I'm willing to pay to be able to play.

Posted on Jan 28
Written by Wayne Hartman