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Paying Rent: A Developer Manifesto on Pricing

There’s been a flurry of tweets and posts today regarding some of the terms of conditions imposed on developers to commercialize their Android apps. As one of the oldest app stores around (.est. 2005) it never ceases to surprise us how people fawn on developers to get their content and then impose draconian terms on them that make monetizing their excruciatingly painful.

As an app store, working with developers really isn’t that difficult. Basically you have to listen to what they say, provide them tools to get their content in front of consumers and try to help them make money. But that last part seems to be a challenge for certain organizations. Developers can’t make great content if they can’t pay rent. They can’t pay rent unless they are given some basic, common sense freedoms on how to monetize their content. We’d figured maybe the easiest way to communicate this would be through a Manifesto of certain guiding principles app stores should strive to have to help developers make money:

1. Let developers set their own price. Developers are big boys and girls. They know how important price is and they know it can only be used so often to be effective. Unlike app stores, they also only generally have a few apps to use this on so when they use it they need to make it count. It’s fine to suggest pricing to developers but ultimately only they know what they need to make a living and they could / should study consumer behavior enough to understand what the most effective price point is.

2. Let developers choose their billing partner. We compete in an open economy. In particular, Android is supposed to be open (though the door is closing more quickly with each passing day). Billing is no different. There are better and worse suppliers. Developers should be allowed to work with multiple partners to ensure a) they have the partner that converts best and b) they have the partner that monetizes best. If an app store has its own billing that’s fine. Give developers options and ultimately they and consumers will pick what solution works best for them. Otherwise it’s like going to the movies and always having to pay with Diners Club (who even uses that anymore?)

3. Don’t tie down developers’ ability to promote across store fronts: In an ideal world, Android distribution is supposed to be open (thank you AT&T for helping us get closer to that reality). App stores shouldn’t hamper developers’ ability to leverage promotions or placement in other stores through rigid pricing policies. App stores should realize that developers will look to different app stores for different promotional opportunities. If I can’t get app store A to feature their game but App Store B will feature it if they discount it then why not be able to this? Android is supposed to benefit developers through open distribution, if stores abuse pricing to reduce this distribution it defeats the whole purpose behind open distribution and ultimately makes it harder to pay the rent.

4. Show developers some respect for the product they create and communicate that: If app stores set pricing it should be in conjunction with developers. At the very least, App stores should provide multiple price points to choose from as well as case studies, best practices and advice to developers on when / how to manage the price life cycle to optimize revenues. Back in the much criticized carrier days as a developer I would often work with carriers to agree on pricing and we would jointly agree on how to manage this. App stores should and do have an opinion on pricing of apps given their wider view of the market and they should communicate this. However, to build goodwill they should work with developers and not independently of them.

The app space is an amorphous, rapidly shifting landscape. The technology, distribution and pricing are ever changing and make it difficult for developers to build great products and successful monetize them. What the app stores need to do is give developers flexibility, tools, support and advice on how to this and not dictate to them. As app stores we need to keep in mind that ultimately content is what consumers come to us for. It’s a bit tough to meet that demand if you ignore developers or worse, impose restrictive commercial policies on them. We can do better than that.

Patrick.

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