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Unread dev provides a look at the harsh realities of indie app development

Unread developer provides a look at the harsh realities of indie app development

Jared Sinclair, the developer behind RSS reader app Unread, has provided a detailed account of Unread's first year of existance. It's a sobering look at the state of indie app development and the market for pay up front apps. Sinclair goes in-depth about the stress of creating Unread, and the toll it took on his life. And all of the effort put into the app has not translated into sustainable revenue, according to the post on Sinclair's blog:

Despite all of these circumstances, Unread still only earned $42K in sales ($21K after taxes and expenses) and is on a course that doesn't promise much growth. I conclude from all this that anyone who wants to make a satisfying living as an independent app developer should seriously consider only building apps based on sustainable revenue models. I suspect this means through consumable in-app purchases, like those in Candy Crush Saga or Clash of Clans, or through recurring subscription charges, like those in WhatsApp. Furthermore, I have grave doubts that any solo developer would have the capacity to ship and maintain either kind of business working alone. She would probably have to consolidate her business with other indie developers in the same position. The marketing budgets of the major competitors makes me doubt that even a consolidation strategy is tenable.

This is not, unfortunately, an uncommon tale. Independent software development is a hard road, especially for pay-up-front apps. Do you buy apps, and how do you feel about the future of paid apps? Let us know below in the comments.

Source: Jared Sinclair

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is a news reporter for iMore. He's also chilling out and having a sandwich.

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Unread dev provides a look at the harsh realities of indie app development

17 Comments

If your app is dependent on IAPs, I will never download it. Period. I'm not interested in freemium or paymium apps. The only IAP I ever buy is one to remove ads. However, if your app is good, and it's something I need, I have no issue paying for it.

It seems like a lot of devs are looking for an "Angry Birds" type app that they can retire off of. I think it's more realistic to assume that if you want to make a business out of it, you're going to have to develop more than one app.

Sadly, many people have made the IAP model the gold standard. Those of us who value a good app continue to protest but feel it's a losing battle. It's amazing to me how many people won't buy an app but they'll spend $5+ a cup of coffee that's gone in 20 minutes.

The problem is that not enough of you (or I, I prefer to buy too) exist. I have no issues with IAPs like Overcast does it, where the app is fully usable without the IAP but adds some 'very nice to have' features.

I think the thing that's unvoiced in the recent spate of posts on how it's becoming harder for indie devs is this.... the gold rush is over. And there are too many devs, too many apps and too many variations on an idea. Yes, there are over a million apps on the App Store... but no one needs that many. We don't need 10% that many. What's needed are apps that give me a reason to buy THAT app. I bought Unread. It's a very good RSS reader. But there are a fair number of those and it's a niche market in any case.

Since we're not going to see a huge decline in app count, we also need a better way for me to find what I want. I should be able to find, for example, all RSS readers that have been updated for iOS7 and that either have 4+ stars.

We also need a way to pay devs for upgrades. If someone spends time adding new features I *want* to pay them for that not because I'm into charity but because I want devs to be incentivized to keep making their apps better.

Finally, we as customers need to get out of the mindset that $5 is a lot of money to spend on an app. But... we won't.

You miss Sinclair's point. He worked long enough hours that making a second app would be impossible, and his moderately successful app netted him $21k. That may not seem too bad, except that a talented iOS coder can easily make 3-4 times that working less hours.

It is not that indie devs want to strike the mother lode and retire, it is that there is no incentive for them to go mining at all.

Sent from the iMore App

Money is not the only incentive. I have friends who love to code. They would make an app simply to be able to say "I made that" and follow its progress. Any earnings they made would be a bonus. They get satisfaction out of it and take pride in their work.

If you're coding apps for a mobile platform simply to pay your bills, you're probably going to have a bad time.

...and that attitude is fine, as long as you have another source of income. Sinclair is simply stating that few indie devs are going to be able to make a living if that is their only source of income.

Sent from the iMore App

While this is often true a lot of people have to justify this coding time (to themselves, a significant other, etc) and a few thousand dollars, or "recovering costs", or even worse going into the red on a project, isn't a very good justification.

Also a problem that you often have with the "love to code" people is that they find something else they love. You have a nice, supported app for a year or two, then nothing.

"Also a problem that you often have with the "love to code" people is that they find something else they love. You have a nice, supported app for a year or two, then nothing."

Very good point.

Marco Arment posted on this too (http://www.marco.org/2014/07/28/app-rot) and I won't repeat his whole post, but I will extract one thing from it - that perhaps developers need to not spend an entire year on a single app. He points to Brent Simmons' opinion that it's probably best to use standard controls and not necessarily do custom code for the UI unless there's a very good reason.

I'm not a developer, but as cool as Unread is, it surprises me that it took a skilled dev an entire year.

I think that buying apps keeps the ecosystem alive, IAP is ok for some things, but if everything in your app is IAP, for example to change the theme, to be able to post to twitter, etc, then your app is not easy or fun to use. I still can't believe people have a hard time paying .99 for an app. Even if the app sucks, so what? It's just a buck.

Sent from the iMore App

Should we assume there won't be to many updates for Unread in the future? This and Flipboard are my go to RSS readers.

I buy stuff with money. Money goes into peoples pockets.

I used to pay $50 for a shitty email application that quit working when Jaguar came out. Then they wanted $25 for the update that fixed the issues with the initial release.

I paid it and got a solid app that I used for several years until it broke on Leo. Moral of the story is: Pay for things ya cheap kids!!

Now get off my lawn :P

While I agree with the conclusions, I have to ask the question: how much of his issues are due to making an rss reader?

The best product in the world with no demand will never be successful.

Agree with comment about rss readers not having sufficient demand. I think the solution is to diversify. Try lots of things. Instead of putting a year into one app, put a month each into 12 different apps. See which ones stick - ie generate some revenue quickly - and then put extra effort into those. There's so many thing a dev can't anticipate - apple rejecting, no demand, some big giant firm with huge budget creating a competitor app - it makes most sense to create lots of baskets to put your eggs in. And for those worried about quality. Don't. You can put out a decent app in a month of solid work. And if you're any good at architecting and modularization, you'll be able to reuse parts of your code from app to app.

Sent from the iMore App

I have no problem at all on paying for apps as long as they provide me something really useful in return. Removing adds is not worth paying for. I detest hidden fees or situations where I have to give up friends contact information (which I refuse no matter what the offer) or force you to get friends to join in as some games do. I don't mind apps that give basic function and then charge for additional features as long as they state it before you download the free part.