Making and Marketing Apps That Succeed: A Chat with Author Dave Wooldridge, Part 1
A short while back I had a truly enjoyable conversation with Dave Wooldridge, all-around sharp guy and author of four fantastic books on app development for iOS. Our conversation centered mainly around one topic though, which Dave wrote at length on in his excellent book The Business of iPhone and iPad App Development: Making and Marketing Apps that Succeed. While nearly everyone these days has an app, very few actually enjoy the kind of success that their creators desire so deeply. And this man understands why.
Before we get to the interview, here’s the 411 on Dave from his website:
As the founder of Electric Butterfly, Dave Wooldridge specializes in UI design and iOS app development. When he’s not creating iOS apps, he can be found writing. Dave is the author of The Business of iPhone and iPad App Development (Apress) and The Developer Sketchbook series, a co-author of Beginning iPad Development for iPhone Developers (Apress), and has written numerous articles for leading tech publications, including a monthly software marketing column for MacTech Magazine. He also developed the official iPhone app for NovelRank, available free in the iOS App Store. In his spare time, he enjoys surfing in Southern California.
And now, here’s part 1 of my chat with Dave:
First question — what led you to write this book in the first place? Tell me how that came about.
It was actually an unexpected opportunity that arose out of WWDC 2009. Back in 2005, Dave Mark and I had launched an eBook company called SpiderWorks that specialized in producing eBooks for developers. We had an attractive royalty rate for authors, so we were able to get some big name developers to write books for us on Mac programming, etc. This was pre-Kindle and pre-iPad, so eBooks were not yet widely adopted, so it was not as big of a business as it is now. Apress approached us about acquiring some of our titles, so that was the beginning of our relationship with Apress.
Fast forward several months, Dave Mark had just finished writing the first Beginning iPhone Development book for Apress with Jeff LaMarche. At WWDC 2009, Dave invited me to come with him to an Apress author dinner and it was there that I met one of Apress’ editors, Clay Andres. He mentioned that he was trying to find a writer for an iPhone app marketing/business book project. I told him that I had an extensive marketing background and as a developer, I could position the book to appeal to developers (which is Apress’ primary focus). So after WWDC, we continued to talk. I submitted a detailed outline for what I thought would be a great marketing/business book for iPhone app developers, Apress approved it, and before I knew it, by July 2009, I was writing.
Did you have any app-specific marketing experience prior to that?
I had extensive Mac app marketing experience and web site marketing experience, but don’t forget, at that time, the App Store was very new, just barely a year old. I don’t think there were even 100,000 apps in the App Store at that point. So the idea of publishing a book on iPhone app marketing probably seemed premature to some people as the App Store was not yet as crowded as it is today. In fact, my first edition of The Business of iPhone App Development was the first app marketing book for developers to hit bookstores. In the months that followed, a few other books on the topic began to surface.
You hit this right in its infancy, then.
Right. But even though I was just diving into iPhone app development along with everyone else, I spent more than six months researching and interviewing app developers on marketing strategies that worked for them. In fact, the business world of apps was changing/evolving so quickly that I kept going back to finished chapters to modify and add new things.
At that stage of the game, I can imagine you’re reacting to pure evolution. In the process of those interviews — or in the writing the book — did you feel like you were gaining insight into what the future state of this whole thing could be? Did you have any sense of how BIG it could become?
Yes, the entire mobile industry was evolving so quickly that we all knew that this was the next big digital frontier and that the iPhone was a game changer. So we all knew that developing iPhone apps was the place to be, but we had no idea just how quickly the iOS market would grow and evolve. 2010 was a lightning rod year. Between the continued iPhone innovations and the iPad launch, things were moving so fast (and continue to do so), that even though my book’s first edition was published in March 2010, there was such a thirst in the developer community for learning effective app marketing and with new SDKs and devices being released so quickly, only a few months passed before Apress approached me about writing an updated and expanded second edition.
I can believe that, because I don’t think anyone was really expecting that pace of growth.
The funny thing was that my publisher thought that writing the second edition would take less time than the first edition due to having the first manuscript as a solid foundation. But as I began writing, I realized that so many new features and opportunities had sprung up since then, that the second edition almost ended up being a complete re-write. There are quite a few brand new chapters (such as extensive coverage of iAd), as well as tons of new content on things that simply didn’t exist back in 2009. So in the end, the second edition took me about as long to write as the first edition.
Ha! So were they on you, like “Hey Dave, hurry UP….!”
At first, but one of the things I love about Apress is that as a publisher dedicated to books for developers, they understand that the quick pace of technology often dictates book deadlines. They knew I was writing a lot of new content and that ultimately, the second edition would be a much better book if they allowed me the time to include all of the topics that I felt were essential.
That’s fantastic — and rare, I think. The publishing industry as a whole doesn’t seem to be long on foresight.
So true, but the niche category of developer-related books seems to be the rare exception there.
So what attributes make one app more marketable/sellable/popular than another? And have those changed dramatically from the time you were writing the book to now?
Yes and no. Beyond the actual marketing of your app (which every developer should be doing), there are two key factors that are very, very important. First, your app must be visually appealing with a well-thought out concept and feature set, and usability must be easy and fun. No amount of marketing can help sell a bad app. A lot of developers assume that games are the only apps that can be visually breathtaking, but there’s absolutely no reason why productivity and utility apps can’t be beautiful and fun to use too! In fact, the iOS market has matured to a level now that I think consumers demand it and can differentiate between a poor user experience and good UI design. Just look at any of Apple’s apps, or some of the bestselling social media and productivity apps, such as Tweetbot. There are some really beautiful apps out there and that’s what new developers are competing against.
You’re talking to a UX/UI guy, btw, so I’m with you all the way
The second important factor is your monetization strategy. Whether you’re tapping into in-app advertising and giving away your app for free, using ads as a sales tool to motivate paid app purchases or an In-App Purchase to remove ads, or giving away a subset of free content/features with In-App Purchase options to unlock additional premium features… doing your homework to figure out who your competitors are, what the market will bear, and how best to get your app into as many hands as possible. The goal should always be to find that precious balance between creating as low of a barrier to entry as possible while establishing enough of a revenue stream to support continued development and grow your app business. While the Lite & Paid app model still has its fans (Paid apps are required to provide free updates), everyone is seeing the mainstream adoption of In-App Purchase as a very powerful model to support continued development.
Are these strategies and ideas easily accessed and readily available to developers? And if it is, do they truly understand the importance of strategy?
Ah, well, if they buy my book, they’ll have that information at their fingertips. Okay, so that might be a shameless book plug, but it’s true. The primary focus of the book is to educate new app developers on those very topics.
The traditional belief many of the developers I come in contact with seem to believe that success is purely a matter of marketing approach and effort; I spend a lot of time preaching the holy trinity of market strategy, good design and UX to a lot of eye-rolling… Has that been your experience talking to the developer community?
One of the biggest issues I find when I chat with other developers is that they loathe having to do any kind of marketing. They want to spend their time programming, which I completely understand. Even though I have a marketing background, I hate doing it just as much as the next guy. It’s not fun. It’s tedious and requires a lot of time and effort, but if you’re looking to transform your app development from a hobby into a business, then it’s a necessity.
Marketing should never be an afterthought. Don’t spend six months slaving over your app, then only dedicate one day to emailing press releases and tweeting about your app once released in the App Store. Developers need to plan ahead and build anticipation for their app, so that when it gets released in the App Store, you have a supernova of publicity, reviews, and word-of-mouth working in your favor. That means creating a pre-release buzz for your app by sneaking screenshots, trailers, ad-hoc review copies to reviewers, etc.
What a lot of developers don’t realize is that there are a lot of marketing strategies that can be integrated into the actual design and development process, such as social media sharing, in-app cross-promotion, etc. Your app (especially if you offer a free or Lite version) should serve as your most powerful marketing tool.
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Stay tuned for part 2 of my chat with Dave, which will be posted Wednesday, July 18th. Until then, let me hear from you in the comments below — what have your experiences been with marketing and selling your apps? What’s worked best? What hasn’t? What valuable lessons did you learn?