For many people the whole point of writing applications is to see them published in the App store and available for download from iTunes. Before you quit your job and go out and buy matching Porsche 911’s you would be wise to get a few months of sales data under your belt. Like most endeavours, there is a bell curve of app sales. Everyone hears about Angry Birds developers making $70m, but there is a lot less media coverage at the other end of the bell curve.
In a recent survey of more than 1,500 developers in 83 countries, it was found that the average per-app revenue is roughly $1,200 to $3,900 depending on the platform. Additionally, the survey noted that an app has roughly a 35% chance of generating between $1 to $500. This obviously means that most developers cannot rely on app development as their main source of income. However, it does mean that if you put the effort in you can make enough to fund your development habit.
Our own experience is that you can never tell which Apps are going to be regular sellers (LifeGoals) and which will sink like a stone (LifeMovie). The Reefwing stable of Apps currently nets us around AUD$10k per annum, which is sufficient to purchase a MacBook Air, a new iPad, external development costs (Apple Developers Licence, App Sales Analytics, web-site and forum costs, etc.) plus a bit of change for the highly caffeinated beverages which programmers run on. Working mainly on on our contracted 3rd party apps we only work on these on the odd night and weekend so with more application we imagine the rewards would be better. The thing that we are no where near recovering is the time spent developing. The average App takes us about 3 months from start to finish and while the proceeds roll in for some years to come, it isn’t really passive income because sales quickly decline if you aren’t frequently updating your app.
However, lets face it – we would code if we didn’t get paid anything so anything we do get is a very pleasant upside. There is also something addictive about tracking the daily “sales” of you app (even if it is free).
The other thing that most developers don’t realise, is that the apps which are successful in the App store, have as much time and money spent on marketing their Apps as they do on developing them. There is the odd exception but these are an exception. Books have been written on this subject and we will provide our thoughts on the best approaches to marketing in another blog post.