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iPhone App Marketing Series: Free for All

By deans ~ September 19th, 2009. Filed under: App Marketing, Observations.

I’ve heard a number of other developers whining that iPhone users just EXPECT apps to be FREE.  Since we’re actually trying to build a company around this effort, I consciously ignored the chatter and we set about to try to sell some good software.  Of course, I’ve also heard that providing a free “lite”, or trial, version of an app can be a good way to drive sales of the paid app.  This concept intrigued me, but Apple doesn’t seem to want to let me explore the potential of “Free” by making lite versions of our apps available.  We currently have 3 lite apps eagerly awaiting approval.  The award winner for the most frustrating situation is iPuckLite, which has been waiting for nearly seven weeks.  For whatever reason, we don’t seem to be allowed to test the hypothesis that lite versions will generate sales of the paid apps.  So I started wondering if I could try the next best thing…

Unfortunately, RingDance has been our least commercially successful effort.  We had sold just 14 copies and given away 12 promo-code copies since the app was approved at the end ofRingDance App Store Icon May — certainly not the blockbuster that we might have hoped for.  With this in mind, I decided to see what would happen if I just gave it away.  So, last week, I set the price for RingDance to US$0.00.  I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect.  We’ve done the promo-code thing, with relatively pathetic results.  Most of the codes that we gave away were not redeemed — they just expired.  I’d pretty much decided to stop developing RingDance.  The results simply didn’t justify additional effort, but I really do like this app, so I was hoping for some epiphany from the “Free” test.

Chart of RingDance Free Downloads

That’s right, 399 copies of RingDance were downloaded in just over a week.  Our downloads for that week were >15x the downloads for the previous three months, combined.  We also received more than 20 additional ratings and one new review.  We haven’t noticed a post-promotion uptick in sales, but it did feel good to know that some other people are actually enjoying our efforts.  I was even inspired to start working on some enhancements to make the app perform better on old hardware and to be significantly more visually pleasing.  One other thing to note, the only “marketing” that I did for this test was the blog post mentioned above and a couple of tweets.  No press releases, no forum posts, nothing else.

This lame test leads me to believe that (a) iPhone users, in general, do expect apps to be free;  (b) “Free” trumps any silly marketing promotions; (c) There may be real potential for lite apps.

Now, if the Dungeon Masters at the App Store would just approve a couple of my lite apps, perhaps I’ll really have something to report.


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