ShiftyJelly is a small team of Australian mobile developers specialising in iPhone and Ruby on Rails development. When one of its apps featured as Amazon's Free App of the Day, they thought they may have hit the jackpot. Turns out to have been more like highway robbery.
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ShiftyJelly is a small team of Australian mobile developers specialising in iPhone and Ruby on Rails development. They're made up of two full time developers, and a few part time designers. This post has been republished with permission from the ShiftJelly blog.
About three months ago, we set off on a little experiment into the world of the Amazon App Store (which isn't yet available in Australia). Back then people were hailing it as the solution to the problems with the Google Market, industry pundits like Andy Ihnatko called it 'An Excellent Work in Progress'.
Amazon's biggest feature by far, has been their Free App Of The Day promotion. Publicly their terms say that they pay developers 20 per cent of the asking price of an app, even when they give it away free. To both consumers and naive developers alike, this seems like a big chance to make something rare in the Android world: real money. But here's the dirty secret Amazon don't want you to know, they don't pay developers a single cent. Before being featured by Amazon, you get an email like this one:
As you may already know, the Free App of the Day offer placement is one of the most visible and valuable spaces on the Amazon Appstore. We would like to include your app "[name removed] " in our Free App of the Day calendar. We have seen tremendous results from this promotion spot and believe it will bring you a great deal of positive reviews and traffic. It is an opportunity to build your brand especially in association with a brand like Amazon's. The current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed.
The emphasis there was actually added by them in their email. So we asked them to confirm, what seemed a ridiculous proposition:
Thanks for emailing us. If I read this correctly you'd like to give away our application for free, and pay us nothing? That's very generous of you, but we like being paid for our work. I appreciate that Amazon is trying to build up it's store, and get more users, but the problem is at the moment you have the reputation of being ‘The place where I get my free apps' and for a developer like us who doesn't put advertising into our applications, that can only be a bad thing.
We'd be happy to reconsider if you decided to pay us the 20% that we agreed to in our original developer agreement, but this new one seems to favour only you, at the expense of us?
To which they responded:
Thanks for your response. The Free App of the Day promotion is the most valuable and visible spot in the store. It hosted the launch of the likes of Angry Birds Rio, Plants v. Zombies and more. Amazon will not receive any sales rev share from the Free App of the Day; and in fact, with as the Free of the Day for one day, you will receive a subsequent Appstore main page placement for the following 14 days.
All these highly valuable placements are at no cost to you. We want to promote your app and in exchange of the placements, at the 0% rev share for one day only.
All this seemed way too one-sided to us, Amazon is being predatory here, and asking developers (who are often desperate for exposure) to give away their app, in order to promote Amazon. A heated debate broke out in our office about whether we should or not. I was firmly against, my business partner for. In the end we agreed that we had entered the world of Android development as an experiment, and it would seem silly not to add more data to the experiment we were conducting. The day of our promotion came:
That's right, Amazon gave away 101,491 copies of our app! At this point, we had a few seconds of excitement as well, had we mis-read the email and really earned $US54,800 in one day? We would have done if our public agreement was in place, but we can now confirm that thanks to Amazon's secret back-door deals, we made $0 on that day. That's right, over 100,000 apps given away, $0 made. Did the exposure count for much in the days afterwards? That's also a big no, the day after saw a blip in sales, followed by things going back to exactly where we started, selling a few apps a day. In fact Amazon decided to rub salt in the wounds a little further by discounting our app to 99 US cents for a few days after the free promotion. All we got was about 300 emails a day to answer over the space of a few weeks, that left us tired and burnt out. For all we know most of the people who wanted our application, now have it. To add insult to injury Pocket Casts relies on a server to parse podcast feeds (allowing instant updates on your phone), and all these new users forced us to buy more hardware just to meet demand. Hardware that we are going to have to support indefinitely at our own cost.
What makes us mad though is the public perception that Amazon pays developers to be featured. Every single person we asked on Twitter or via email thought they were helping developers out, and getting a free application. Amazon does nothing to dispel these rumours, in fact they put really restrictive clauses at the bottom of their emails, saying that no one is even allowed to discuss these back door deals they are doing. But that's not our only beef with Amazon:
• Lengthy review times of anywhere up to two weeks (I've lost count of the amount of emails from people asking why our Google Market app is newer)
• Amazon gets to set the price of your app to whatever they want, without any input from you, or even the chance to reject their price
• Amazon re-writes your description, and in ours they even made up things like 'add up to 100 podcasts'. No idea where on earth they got that number from
• Amazon don't provide error reports like Google do making it hard to fix errors
• They don't yet support Google's new multiple APK initiative
• Amazon pays far later than Google does, and to date we haven't received any cheques from them, even though we are listed as being ‘payed'
• US Only
• Much less real-time sales information than Google
• Update: (and this one surprised us) you can't remove apps from their store! You have to ask them for permission via an email. Every other store lets you remove apps from sale.
Add these things up, and we were starting to ask ourselves, why on earth are we in business with these guys?
We can see the counter argument here, that we agreed to Amazon's terms, even if they were underhanded and secret, so we deserve everything we got. Perhaps. I guess it's just lucky for us that this was an experiment, and that we don't make our full time income from selling Android apps, but rather from developing for iOS. That said, we want to make a clear stand here, so that Amazon doesn't take advantage of those less fortunate than us.
So today we're making a stand. Effective immediately we are removing ourselves from the Amazon Store. We're not the only ones doing this.
To anyone who paid for our app in the Amazon Store (yes all 200 or so of you!), we apologise for the inconvenience. If you choose to come and join us in the Google Market, and want a refund for that purchase, we will be more than happy to oblige. Contact us for more details. To those who got the app free from Amazon, we're sorry to say there won't be any more updates. We won't cripple your app in any way, it will continue to work... but then if you like it that much, you could do worse than throw $2 our way.
• Yes we got what we signed up for, that's not our beef. This article sums up our contention better than we perhaps did: http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/02/amazons-appstore-youll-make-0-when-we-give-your-app-away-and-youll-like-it/
• Our app status in Amazon now says ‘suppressed' no idea what that means, but it does sound a bit comical/sinister
• My personal favourites are the conspiracy theorists "BUT YOU DIDN'T SHOW SALES AFTERWARDS, YOU GUYS MUST HAVE MADE MILLIONS". I was almost tempted to post "Dang nab it, you caught us red handed" as a joke, but no doubt that would just get out of hand. Here you go July sales (we were featured on the 27th of June, -10 points if you ask for June 28-30th, now you're just being silly ;-P):