inessential by Brent Simmons

Indies and the App Store

Rene Ritchie, in What no indie developer wants to hear about the App Store, writes:

Big apps get all the attention these days, just like big movie, music, or book releases — or big toy releases — and indies get what little is left, when there’s even a little left. The App Store is big business, and that’s how big business works. Only our nostalgia keeps us thinking otherwise. Just like our nostalgia for the corner store in the age of online and big box.

On this same subject, Ben Thompson’s Why doesn’t Apple enable sustainable businesses on the app store? is worth a re-read.

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Obviously some companies are doing well — such as Omni, where I work — selling productivity apps on the App Store.

And indies would do better than they are right now — possibly much better — if the App Store had trial versions, upgrade pricing, and a faster and better review process. (And the Mac App Store should make sandboxing either less onerous or, preferably, optional.) (And — since I’m listing the ponies I want — it would help if Apple took something like 10% rather than 30%.)

But a couple other things are true:

There was never a golden age for indie iOS developers. It was easier earlier on, but it was never golden. (Yes, some people made money, and some are today. I don’t mean that there were zero successes.)

And there’s a good chance that many of the people you currently think of as thriving iOS indie developers are making money in other ways: contracting, podcast ads, Mac apps, etc.

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Speaking of Mac apps: ten years ago you could make money writing and selling Mac apps. There was a small-but-awesome community of indie Mac developers. This hasn’t changed.

The Mac has for a long time been overlooked — first because Windows was so huge, and then web apps, and now iOS. For my entire career people have said that the Mac is a bad bet, that it’s dumb to write Mac apps.

In 2002, in Why I develop for Mac OS X, I explained that I write Mac apps for emotional reasons.

Those emotional reasons still apply, and are enough, themselves, to keep me writing Mac apps. But my experience since then tells me that writing Mac apps is the best economic bet for indies. (Particularly if you sell the app yourself, so you can have a trial version and upgrade pricing.)

It’s okay that you totally don’t believe me. I know you don’t. But Mac developers have been going against the prevailing wisdom — and making great apps — for decades. We’ll keep going.

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Update 2:20 pm: See, from 2008, Advice for indies.