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Craft Apps

Ben Thompson’s piece today about Zoë Keating is an interesting read for any indie developer. The chart alone is worth a look whenever you’re making choices about how to price your apps or services.

Immediately after reading his piece, I sent this tweet, which he was kind enough to put into his footnotes.

.@monkbent Your update today made me think of indie app devs. Most make craft beer and try to sell it at Bud Light prices.

— jcieplinski (@jcieplinski) January 26, 2015

I find it odd that so many indies want to make “opinionated” software, which by definition limits the audience, and then price it as if trying to reach the widest audience possible. This strikes me as trying to have it both ways. Either you want to target a niche, or go for scale. If you target a niche with your design and features then try and price the app for the mainstream, you’re going to have a very hard time being sustainable.

The mainstream simply doesn’t care about your high-quality, artisanal approach to app making. They want what’s free and what’s popular. To get their attention, it takes millions of dollars an indie doesn’t have.

The craft beer analogy isn’t perfect, but it does offer a hint as to how some of us might successfully navigate through the overabundance and ultra-discount dominance on the App Store.

A craft brewery like Victory doesn’t try to take customers away from Coors. They specifically target the people who wouldn’t be caught dead drinking a Coors. They are looking for beer snobs, none of whom are drinking the giant brands.

The problem is that there are few people outside the mainstream. So you have to let go of this notion of making up for it in volume. You can’t easily convert people who don’t pay for software with your amazing hand-crafted experience. But by and large, the small group who does look for that level of craftsmanship will be far more loyal, vocal, and happy to pay[1]. You just have to find them[2], earn their trust, and then charge them more for your superior product.

Easier said than done, right? Still, it looks easier to me than competing with funded startups for the attention of the fickle masses.

You’ll never make the money the big startups make, but you won’t have to. You’re paying yourself or a small team, not an office building full of people. Success isn’t about beating everyone else. It’s about feeding your family. To paraphrase Charles Perry on our podcast today, mind your revenue, not your rank.

Is there a large enough market for “craft” apps? I don’t know. But I think trying to couple a superior experience with rock-bottom prices is maybe not the best way to find out.

  1. In many cases, the higher the price, the better. They want to brag about how much their superior experience cost them. A low price can actually hurt you here.  ↩
  2. Guess where they’re not hanging out? The App Store most popular charts, for one. You really need to think outside the App Store to find these customers.  ↩