As a service that empowers Mac & Windows developers to start selling outside the major app stores, we’ve gathered a wealth of feedback and experience on the subject. In this post we’re going to share some of the key things that we’ve learned.
In & Out
Many discussions on selling outside the MAS take the line that its a binary decision, that as a Mac developer you would either choose to start selling in the Mac App Store or go outside. Common sense and feedback tells us that selling outside the MAS should be an integral part of your selling strategy. Equally, for the majority of developers, maintaining a MAS presence is certainly worthwhile.
Ultimately, since the Mac App Store has no exclusivity over the selling of your app, why would you not seek out higher margin sales outside the MAS?
Lets look at the key benefits to selling both inside and outside the Mac App Store.
For many developers, a listing in the Mac App Store is regarded as the de facto start point on the road to self-realisation! In the beginning, the MAS was also the de facto place for consumers to start their search for their next app purchase. However, as every consumer knows, searching the MAS to find the perfect app can now prove challenging and this represents the biggest barrier to success for any developer - discovery.
Selling in the Mac App Store can bestow a degree of credibility on your app, given the process that everyone goes through to get a listing, however sandboxing has actually caused some big players (most recently Coda 2.5 from Panic) to quit the MAS. A listing in the MAS does not necessarily guarantee the quality of the app in the consumer’s eyes.
Historically one of the key benefits to selling via the Mac App Store is the simplicity with which consumers can make a purchase, as well as having the MAS deal with licensing. However, as we’re about to explain, in-app purchase, licensing and a seamless checkout are all elements that can now be achieved very simply, outside the Mac App Store.
Selling outside the Mac App Store
Cold hard cash
Most of the payment service providers outside the Mac App Store will charge you anything from 5% to 15% per sale, plus a fixed fee. Others will offer a lower rate but with card processing fees and/or a monthly subscription charge on top - it can get messy. Hence, you will need to do some maths to work out which service/pricing structure works for you, given the price of your app and the volume of sales you're doing each month.
Selling outside the Mac App Store also allows you to offer volume discounts and payment via PayPal, as well as the ability to run your own promotions using coupons etc. Crucial to your bottom line, is the ability to control your checkout process and up/cross-selling at every opportunity. The checkout process can be just as sweet as the MAS, when selling outside. As an example, the checkout that developers use to sell their apps at Paddle, converts 70% percent of customers, double the industry average.
In-app purchase is another feature that service providers can power outside the Mac App Store (some service providers offer that via third parties and not directly, so that’s something to watch for).
Free trials are proven to drive sales
Perhaps the biggest benefit we get feedback on with regards to selling outside the Mac App Store is being able to offer free trials to your potential customers. Industry wide, around 80% of gamers for example continue to play a game after a free trial has ended. That just shows how potentially lucrative offering a free trial could be for your app - not possible in the Mac App Store. Many of the service providers we compete with can power these trial versions of your app. If you use Paddle’s service, we can power a ‘lite’ version and offer in-app purchases/upgrades, as well as offering a time limited trial. For the time limited trial, a user will purchase a licence key in-app to unlock the full version.
Taking Control of Upgrades
Of course when you sell in the Mac App Store you are bound by their rules. Sandboxing being one of these rules, which must be adhered to when it comes to MAS approval. This approval process can induce an element of uncertainty in your planning assumptions. An app failing sandboxing requirements is a major headache we hear about, as is the wait to have the MAS approve critical bug fixes, which ultimately costs valuable time, customers and potential sales.
Outside the MAS, as well as doing away with this uncertainty, you are free to charge for upgrades to your app, as well as to offer multiple licences to users, which typically have multiple devices. You can of course offer free updates via most of the services that support selling outside the Mac App Store. In Paddle’s case, we do this via the cloud and our user’s cloud based Locker.
Discovery outside the Mac App Store
As we mentioned earlier, discovery in a crowded market should be a primary concern. On the MAS, your product is pitched alongside free apps purporting to solve the same problem as your app. This leads into another discussion on premium vs freemium but the point remains, within the Mac App Store, there is huge competition to stand out. That’s not to say that some apps don’t just hit it out of the park on the MAS but you should be prepared to promote your app and not rely on it getting ‘found’ through the MAS.
No matter how much you spend on promotion within the Mac App Store, the sheer numbers of apps landing on the MAS each week will at some point displace you from the top 10. We try to address the problem of discovery through our customers’ cloud based lockers - suggesting apps based on an algorithm of previous purchases and preferences.
Getting feedback and closing the loop
Although the Mac App Store provides you with some analytics, most of the service providers you would use selling your app outside the MAS can give you real-time analytics with much more customer data and fidelity. This information will be invaluable to you in honing your future ad campaigns and targeting your outreach.
The feedback we receive from developers overwhelmingly points towards selling in the Mac App Store alongside building your own audience outside. We see many of the great things that the Mac App Store has introduced, now possible through a wide range of tools for developers outside the MAS. At the same time, largely as a victim of its own success, the Mac App Store can be a challenging place for your app to be found. Ultimately, selling through both channels makes sense for the following reasons:
- Reduced risk (app approvals etc)
- Maximised profit (higher margin on sales outside the MAS)
- Control over cross selling & promotions.
Some recommended reading if you're considering selling outside of the Mac AppStore:
- Releasing Outside the Mac Appstore by Matt Gemmell
- Sandbox of frustration: Apple's walled garden closes in on Mac developers by Ellis Hamburger
- The Mac App Store isn’t for today’s Mac developers by Marco Arment