App Store opaque box

Few days ago I read this request (more like a plea) by Nilay Patel to Apple, to allow its 3rd party developers two new tools to help them make their business more healthy (found the link via Marco). The requests are:

Allow developers to charge monthly/annual subscription pricing.

Allow developers to track the success of social and internet ad campaigns.

Both of these are excellent suggestions and would be more than welcome, but I want to cast additional light to the second one.

My app, Go Couch to 5k is on App Store for quite some time now and it has not done bad, but nothing close to what I expected it to do. Except during one brief period at the beginning of this year. These are daily sales since Dec 1st 2011 through May 1st 2012.

Daily sales from Dec ‘11 to May ‘12

It’s nothing strange that sales levels go up after Christmas, fueled by people getting (for themselves and others) shiny new iOS-running devices. Usually though, the sales go down in February and by March are settled down to some value. If you are lucky, then that value is over the one before Christmas. What was strange this time was that sales picked-up considerably in March and April. And here’s the kicker:

I have no idea why.

During that period of time:

  • I did not post great new updates (apart from few bug fix releases).
  • I did not get featured by Apple – and believe me, I scoured the App Store feature sections thoroughly.
  • I googled far and wide, looking for reviews, blog posts, whatever – found none. Not a single review nor mention was published, anywhere.
  • I looked at analytics for Radiant Tap web site, they were the same as months before and after.

And the even worse kicker: I have no idea why the sales dropped so sharply at the end of April. This is extremely disheartening and frankly really scary for a one-man indie dev shop. Let alone a company of two or more people.

Maybe during that time people were searching using particular set of keywords that I ranked highly for. Maybe a review was posted to some closed-for-non-members forum. Maybe Go Couch to 5k was included in a set of recommended apps in some other app I have not heard of – like those who hope to earn some money through iTunes referrals by linking successful apps.

I have no idea and it saddens me to no end, as I can’t help but feel I missed a great opportunity there and who knows will it ever come back. An opaque black box called App Store needs to become more transparent so we can figure out why our sales pick up or fall down. Without this, without the ability to measure and distinguish the sources of income, spending money on marketing is mostly flailing around hoping it sticks somewhere. No small-dev shop can afford that.

Published on · company