Question: How is it possible to make a profit off of iPhone apps? I ran the math and I don't see how it's possible. What am I missing? What is a successful strategy?
Background: Yesterday I started to do some basic numbers for a possible iPhone app, and I realized that work in this field looks really difficult if you want to obtain profits. My numbers are as follows.
If we take into consideration that Apple takes 30% of each purchase, and with the asumption that 30% of the customers are going to demand money back because they are not happy with the product (you have to give back Apple's 30% comission from your profits), gives us that for each purchase, you get a margin of 40% (not counting other expenses, like servers, programmers salaries, etc).
So if you sell an app for 1$ per license (one app per user), you obtain a profit of 40 cents (0.40$ per user). It means that to achieve, for instance, 50.000$, you need a minimum of 125.000 happy customers. And we all agree that to build up a quality application, you will need a minimum of one designer, one IOs developer, one system engineer and one web app developer (at least for the back-end if you plan to build up some kind of social app), and is obvious that they have to have a decent salary that could give us an average of 35K$ year/developer (and we could only recruit decent developers with that numbers, not top ones).
If we multiply 4 developers x 35K$/year = 140K$ year (let's asume 150K$ if we include extra expenses like servers, etc).
So if we make a summary, we can deduce that we will need 375.000 happy customers purchasing our product per year just to pay bills (not profits).
Am I lossing something, or programming & selling iPhone apps is not that easy? I could even say that is impossible. Only super hits like WhatsUp for instance can obtain that amount of purchases, and we all agree that is almost impossible (or there are very low probabilities) that you could achieve that number of clients.
I hope somebody can give me a clue about selling products for iPhone (or mobility in general) and feasibility in real scenarios.
Making iPhone apps, profitably, is not an easy task. Neither is making an Android app, or a Flash game or all sorts of other things.
Many people who make apps like this do it because it's fun for them.
A couple of things that you may be skipping over:
To point out a few potential errors in the specifics of your math:
Here are couple articles on the subject:
How do you make money on iPhone apps?
You base your 40% profit rate on an assumption that 30% of purchasers will return the product. Then you use that 40% to support your assertion that you need 125,000 happy customers in order to make $50K. If you have 125K happy customers, then you have 178,571 total customers, and your 'takehome' is 40% of that number, or $71,482. With a 30% 'apple fee' and a 30% return rate (assuming you are right that Apple makes you pay all of this), then your real return on happy customers is closer to 57%.
To take home $50K you would need 125,000 total sales (and the resulting 37,500 returns). Seems much more doable now, eh? ;-)
ps if you are paying your developers $35k/yr, that might explain your 30% refund rate. But, I think several other people have already beaten that horse to death...
Making money from iPhone apps is hard enough for an experienced persons and it sounds like you are a bit green. Assuming you are in USA/Canada/Australia etc, $35K will not get you much of a coder. From my experience in software development, the vast majority of coders are pretty average.
The cost of hiring a person is actually a lot more than their salary. To start off with, you'll need to provide an office, hardware, etc. In Australia, you also need to provide superannuation and Workcover. If you are hiring 4 people, you are going to have extra accounting and legal costs as well.
I'd suggest you start small - hook up with an experienced coder and publish a simple application. If you are targeting a $1 app, perhaps that is all you need. You probably wont make much money off it but you can get the experience building a software company.
There are strategies for increasing the profitability of an app. If you sell it for $1, include in-app purchases to extend the application. Even expensive apps offer this. This is all part of the learning process.
If you choose to scale up, your company will probably need to be working on several apps simultaneously. Some will earn nothing but one or two may be successful.
Once you become known as an iOS developer, you can do contract development work for other companies who will pay you up front. There is a lot of demand for talented, experienced iOS developers.
The point is: When you enter digital app marketplace such as Apple store or Android Play Store, talk about at least thousands if not millions. If your app is really good, that milestone isn't a big deal.
With an app having that much complexity (which requires high development cost), if you aren't targetting at least one thousand customers, dump your vision right away.
I agree with most of the responses. As a software developer and business owner, I'll give you my opinions:
I am very interested in the solution to the 30% "Steve Jobs Toll" - The original question is basically good..but it was based on the price of an app. I am much more concerned with the 30% "commission" on the cost of the goods sold. For example: I am selling gift cards to retail stores, music, gift certificates, and ebooks. As a reseller, not a manufacturer of goods, my gross profit margin on these goods is around 10%. If I make $10 on a $100 gift card to Home Depot, how can I give Apple 30%? What if, I was a retail ecommerce boutique, selling shoes & handbags. Again, gross profit margin may be 50% - I buy a bag for $50 and sell it for $100. If Apple takes $30 that leaves me with $20 but overhead,support, merchant services, and other expenses involved in the running of the business cut into that $20.
Forget the cost of developers, and servers...this is not the problem!!! The only way to have a retail business is mobile optimized web. Leave the app store for games and tools but not ecommerce.
I am in college and am a successful iOS developer. I make much more than I could at a regular job and am gaining valuable experience and resume content. I build my apps all myself and usually turn out 1 to 2 a month. For a college student who is studying computer science this is an amazing opportunity and the profits out weigh any cost. "Most good programmers do programming not because they expect to get paid or get adulation by the public, but because it is fun to program." Linus Torvalds (inventor of linux).
Wow I don't know where everyone else in the world lives but these numbers are ridiculous. I didn't have to pay developer (besides a $50 deposit) because I gave him a 30 percent share of the company.
With affiliate marketing (revmob and others), you can be making more than you do with a paid app through ads. Sometimes, after it all adds up, you can be making as much as $5.00 per download. The math, at its best, looks like this:
$25 cpm = 1,000 impressions. Average user plays 80 times, plus an average of 2-3 impressions per session. This automatically puts you way over one dollar.
With fast growing cpm's in the affiliate marketing category profits start to make more sense. Along with this, a rigorous business plan (a free one, if your smart enough and you put it enough work), mapping out in each platform how many viewers you are going to reach, you can set your estimates much higher.
We've been developing our business plan for three months now, with vigorous work each day, and we are estimating to hit hundreds of thousands within the first few weeks of the release. I truly think its extremely possible to make a valuable profit off these apps.