Apple’s App Store has been described as “a virtual gold mine,” in which crafty garage developers can get rich hawking everything from a birdwatching offering to a flatulence simulator to a faux fogged-up screen for your iPhone. But as the shelves get increasingly crowded, coders are finding that a little marketing muscle may be necessary to move their products.
AdMob last week released data indicating that only 19 percent of the 50,000 iPhone apps in its ad network (the majority of which are free, according to the company) had more than 10,000 users in May. A mere 5 percent had more than 100,000 users, and more than half the apps in the AdMob network had fewer than 1,000.
Those figures mirror a recent informal survey from a UK-based online game consultant, which found that more than half of responding iPhone developers earned more than $15,000 through the App Store; a full third of respondents made less than $250.
There are plenty of possible reasons so many apps see low uptake — how many different fart apps can the market sustain, really? — but a lack of discoverability is the primary stumbling block. It’s difficult for even the most compelling apps to attract attention in an ever-expanding library where unknown publishers must compete with major brands, and the constraints of mobile devices (yes, even the iPhone) make searching for good apps that much tougher. And, as AdMob noted, the App Store ranking system favors a few top apps at the expense of lesser-known — and perhaps more innovative — offerings.
The lack of discoverability is primarily an iPhone App Store problem today in the hot mobile-app space. (Of course, carrier decks continue to provide a nightmarish shopping experience for feature-phone users, but that’s on an entirely different level). The issue is sure to become a stumbling block for Android Market, BlackBerry App World, Palm’s Pre and other platforms as developers stock the shelves with mobile applications.
Which is why it’s increasingly incumbent on developers and publishers to market the stuff once it’s fully baked; as MobHappy points out, “an app store is not a marketing strategy.” What, then, does a marketing strategy look like? Here are a few of my own suggestions:
- Consider offering a free, stripped-down of a premium app to showcase the product before asking users to fork over a few dollars for the entire thing.
- Brand the app wisely and back it with targeted advertising, if possible, as well as virally through social networking sites and other channels, and post a video demo on YouTube.
- Make sure the bloggers and media types — you know, the people who create all those “top 10″ lists — get a chance to play with (and write about) your app.
- Move quickly to fix bugs or other hangups. Engage with users online, through message boards, and install in-app “tell-a-friend” features.
Then, cross your fingers, and hope you get picked for Apple’s next “there’s an app for that” commercial.