Developers resorting to giving away apps to help them make more sales is insane

App Store on iPad
App Store on iPad (Image credit: iMore)

There's no doubting that independent developers have it hard on the App Store and I'm fairly confident everyone reading this will agree with me there. The sheer number of apps in the App Store in 2020 makes discoverability almost impossible and Apple knows it. It's why it's spending money and time on App Store editorial, highlighting apps that might otherwise go unnoticed. But it's a problem that doesn't have an easy fix, unfortunately.

I've been trying to help smaller developers out where I can, sharing their apps here and on Twitter. But again, that won't fix the problem and I'm not here to tell you what will. But I do want to give a little anecdote to show just how bad things have gotten.

Right now developers are giving their apps away in an attempt to sell more apps.

Yes, you read that right.

Indie App Santa is a project that will see a new independent app go free or be heavily discounted every day through December. Aviary was free yesterday. Today it's The Wallpaper App. But why are they giving their apps away and how does that mean they can get sales in the future?

To answer that, we have to look at the numbers.

See more

Yesterday, Aviary was downloaded around 22,000 times. At $4.99 per download that would have raked in almost $110,000 for its developer. That's more than a year's salary for a lot of people. In a single day.

But to see the full picture, we need to look at how that compares to a normal day. Say, Friday last week.

See more

That's quite the jump in downloads. And while startling, this still doesn't explain how going free helps developers sell apps. Terrifyingly, it might not help them at all but the idea is simple – more downloads means more App Store reviews. More downloads means more people liking the app and sharing it with their friends. More downloads means climbing the App Store charts.

As a result, more downloads could, hopefully, mean more paid customers in the future. The whole thing is a gamble and that must be absolutely terrifying when being an indie developer is the way you feed your kids.

I know I couldn't do it. But I sure am glad some people do. The App Store wouldn't the App Store without the amazing apps independent developers build and Apple knows it.

How can you help? Maybe keep all of this in mind the next time you take to the App Store review section to complain about paying $4.99 – or less! – for that app that you use for hours every day.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.