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back to article App Store groupthink is bad news for small devs

Two years ago The Register's Andrew Orlowski, writing for the New Statesman, poked crater-sized holes in the notion that "long tail" economics were good for musicians. In 2011, it's equally clear that the long tail* is bad business for app developers, brands, and, well, everyone. The internet has not diffused the ability to make …

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Pint

App Store 'Featured' vice Search

Yes, I also review the latest App hits. But after that, I then repeatedly search the App store using up to about a dozen search terms related to my interests. This always brings up a long list of interesting apps that are otherwise invisible.

The real economic issue is that I tend to concentrate on 'free' apps. Oh, I'll spend a bit of money on apps, but not a lot. The whole point of iPhones (& iPod Touches) are the free apps. Without free apps, we wouldn't have bought all the iDevices.

Cheers.

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Disagree

First, the long tail is of no relevance whatsoever to the problem of marketing and getting your app into that top 10 chart.

Second, small indie developers can and do get into that top 10 chart.

Third, the long tail does exist, and does pay. A decent part of my app store income comes from old apps that have long since gone from the charts (but not from our hearts), yet continue to sell in a constant trickle. With enough apps in the store I could probably live off the tail alone (for a few years at least - they eventually become obsolete).

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@Chris 19

" First, the long tail is of no relevance whatsoever to the problem of marketing and getting your app into that top 10 chart. "

True, but the fact that the top 10 iPhone/Android apps is a bigger proportion of all sales than any top 10 in any luxury goods market before the dawn of the internet is of direct relevance to the importance of being in that top 10.

You have been lucky to get a good living out of app sales, but your personal experience isn't enough to disprove the statistics that show that most app writers get $sq_rt(FA) and that the writers of Angry Birds got $2^shedloads.

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Misread?

The Nielsen report says that "the top 10 Android apps make up 43 per cent of users' time spent on mobile apps".

That's the *time* not the *money*. Given that the top three at the moment are GMail, Facebook and Adobe Flash, that's actually a surprisingly low figure.

What the author of the article has done is draw a faulty conclusion from the Nielsen research. The unsurprising fact that people use the useful and popular apps more than any others does not mean that they are not buying any others and when those most popular apps are for essential activities or from the service provider, then you'll almost certainly want a very good reason to look elsewhere (such as the app being utterly rubbish).

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As opposed to what?

What statistical distribution was the author expecting to see? Equal sales for all products? These are scalable statistics (see The Black Swan etc.) so they take the distribution that scalable statistics always take.

Nonetheless plenty of people are making anywhere from a few hundred dollars a month to a few thousand dollars a month, with no marketing, by releasing minor titles on the App Store. Could they have done this without Apple? Possibly. Did they do this without Apple? No. Did they go into it expecting to do as well as EA? Of course they didn't.

So what's the point here, other than to smash a few sacred cows (or sacred strawmen)?

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Anonymous Coward

Thank you Captain Obvious

So essentially small devs are f**cked in any direction, app stores or not. Thank you very much for reaching that brilliant conclusion.

However the article fails to mention if app stores make things worse than they were for small devs.

As a small dev myself with some app sales under my belt, I'd say no.

Sure sales only made it to 4 digits so far, but I had a similar application for 2 years on my website and didn't even get one.

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I think this is also hints at how few apps are actually needed. I think once people get their first dozen essential apps the novelty kind of wears off. Also on a store with 400,000 apps the number of redundant, duplicated and plain awful must be shockingly high.

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Long Tail, or just one company handling everything?

The "Long Tail" was never a hymn to diversity, and it was never that long either. It needs a monopoly distribution channel, serving an enormous market. It's no "bazaar", and it's not a "cathedral" either - think of a giant Wal-Mart.

There's no evidence to suggest that internet commerce or app stores or music download services have a longer tail than their real-world equivalents - Once you normalise the figures.

That last bit is important. If the "tail" contains only 1% of all sales, but is 80% of the catalogue (numbers off the top of my head; the real situation is far worse), then it is only viable to have a product in this tail if the total number of sales is so colossal that your tiny share of that 1% is significant. In this aspect, Anderson was right, but he didn't explore the reasons why this works, because nobody likes to be seen to support monopolies.

Amazon have a dominant place in bookselling, and generate just such a colossal number of sales as a result. Similarly, the Apple and Android app stores can produce this number of sales, as does iTunes. But these are monopoly or near-monopoly providers of their goods. Perhaps the only reason there's a viable tail at all is because, in a non-monopoly provider, these more esoteric parts of the catalogue would be carried by specialist retailers, and so would not appear in the tail of the monopoly distributor.

But this "specialist lists" is still happening, although indirectly and informally. Magazines, blogs and user groups (like online forums) maintain their own informal "collections" of apps, complete with direct links in to the store. This, like buying from the Top 10, is another form of aggregation, but it's not one that's visible from the storefront. (I haven't worked with iOS in years, but I think putting such a referral service into an app may even be a violation of Apple's Terms of Service).

Lets just hope that Apple/Amazon/Google don't start behaving like other retail monopolies. App developers would then have to pay "hello money" just to be listed, as is common practice with large supermarkets.

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lemmings

The human race is becoming ever more lemming like. Apple says heres a new iPhone and millions go and order something they've never even touched. Everyone buys the same apps, the same books, watches the same films (or worse 'Big Brother')....

The individual is now so rare they are an endangered species. We will end up like the various horror/action/fun films from a few years ago where an individual emerges and stirs heaps of trouble by daring not to think exactly the same as all the plebs.

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WTF?

say wot ?

So what you're saying is that specialist suppliers thrive in the physical world where the catchment area is limited, but somehow fail to thrive in the online world where the catchment area is everyone ?

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Not quite

What I was saying is that the "Long" tail illusion is only visible when you look at the sales from a monopoly retailer, whose sales include everything, because in a diversified market, retailers would specialise in "narrow catalogue, fast turn, low margin" or "broad catalogue, slow turn, high margin", or anything between. I suspect it's only the presence of a monopoly that causes a "long tail", because in this situation, publishers have no other choice than to place their works with the monopoly, even though they could make less per sale than if they had the option of a specialist channel.

This doesn't mean specialist retailers are thriving: far from it. As the online monopoly sucks in more of the entire trade, the specialists will eventually be squeezed out (but not before the general retailers are). Specialist producers are eventually forced to sell through the monopoly retailer, which will undercut the specialist retailers on price, because unlike the specialist, the monopoly can spread its overheads across a much higher volume of sales.

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FAIL

how?

I'm no longer sure if you aren't just hawking this for your own amusement.

Do you not see any flaws anywhere?

For example; does it not strike you that 'long tail' might also have to apply to consumers and purchases.

Or; that by their very nature not everything can be no 1.

Please do not mistake opinion for cogent thought.

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visibility

No doubt there is a huge problem with lack of exposure for apps, that don't hit the top 10. Especially after the new Android Market, where they removed the "just in" category, it has gotten extremely difficult getting decent download numbers.

And yes, there is always the (stale) "the best will rise to the top" argument, but I prefer diversity and possibilites for many users and devs. alike.

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Curve of functionality

If the basis is 'common use' for average person in daily life is maximum number on curve, this is no surprise.

Shift the basis to the use of a biologist and see what happens to the programs selected and the numbers of downloads.

What is being used most in what you want to do?

The divergence of these particle programs to icons is pretty amazing way to understand your world and your curiosity.

My hat is off to every submittal.

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Bronze badge

And the gross generalization award goes to...

"today we all shop together at the likes of Amazon and eBay, do our searching on Google, and talk with friends on Facebook"

Apparently we all have not learned to stop attributing our behaviors to everyone.

I realize this is just a lazy bit of hyperbole, but it's annoying. And it marks a rhetorical weakness that appears in most of Matt's articles: he rarely seems to be interested in distinguishing his opinions from those of his audience. We're not the choir, Matt. Stop preaching and start arguing.

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