Updated: Aug 28
Many iOS developers ask how to make money with their apps. Even if you are an altruistic developer, you may be wondering how you can join the 45% of developers who are making over $10k a month from their iOS apps.
How much do iOS apps sell for
The iPhone app market nearly doubles the amount of money in the Android market (check our post on how to sell an Android app for more insights on this). iOS app revenue was $85.1 billion in 2021, while Google Play reported $47.9 billion. This is despite iOS only holding a 15 percent market share worldwide. This is because Apple’s phone dominates in high-income places like the US and Japan.
The iOS app market is a big cake, and it’s up to you to cut a slice. Here are some actions you can take to improve the revenue that your iOS app makes.
On Monetization Methods
Most developers use one of the following models to monetize their app.
Free: Releasing the app for free and making cash through ads, in-app purchases, and subscriptions.
Paid: Asking people to pay to download your app. Often educational apps and large games will make use of this model.
Freemium: Releasing both a free and paid version of your app. By releasing both a free and paid version, your app might receive more visibility, and you’ll be giving users the option to try your app before committing to it.
Whatever model you choose, it should be clear to users when and why they should pay for your app. We’re talking about creating a consistent paywall experience throughout.
If your app is a paid app, then avoid additional in-app purchases afterward. If your app is a free app, avoid throwing in unnecessary in-app purchases. Create a clear story of the pain of using your app without paying, and include paywalls at those points.
Creating a Clear Itch to Pay
Your users will only pay if they feel that it is painful to use the app without paying. Your app may already have some of these pain points, especially if it’s a game. To identify these pain points, you need to take a look at how your users are using your app.
Many mobile game developers are experts at identifying an itch and putting in paywalls to offer relief. Games are all goal-oriented. There might be a win-loss scenario that players are trying to avoid, or a resource management mechanic that players are optimizing. The formula boils down to: identifying the goal, and helping the user achieve that goal, for a price.
Here are a few common methods:
Pay to keep playing
This trick has been around since games were in arcade machines. It’s used by many top games, such as Candy Crush, Two Dots, and Subway Surfers. Let’s unpack puzzle games. In Candy Crush and Two Dots, the goal is to complete levels in a limited number of moves.
The itch is this: you almost beat the level, but you JUST ran out of moves! If you only paid a dollar to get 5 more moves, you’d beat the level. In our experience, most (over 80%) of the revenue of puzzle games comes from this one interaction.
In streak games such as Subway Surfers, Pinball, the sell is similar: you just died, but your streak is so high! It would be a shame to waste your streak. If you just paid a dollar, you could go even higher!
You can apply this technique to non-game apps as well. Blogs and news apps that lock content behind paywalls use this technique. The point at which you lock your content is something that you will need to play around with, and improving the revenue is a matter of paying attention when your content hooks in users.
From gambling apps, to puzzle games, to news apps, pay to keep playing is a tried and tested method that works.
Skip Wait Times
Have you noticed that your users are spending a lot of time engaging with a specific feature of your app? Limit their time with the feature, and ask them to buy that time back.
This is commonly done through a lives mechanic, or artificial interruptions. As an added benefit, you can tell your users that you are limiting them for their own mental health.
When, and how often you impose these artificial delays is another matter of researching the way your users engage with your app.
In-app Purchases as Collectibles
Users love collecting things. If you notice that your users have become invested in your brand, you might consider releasing cute collectible items for them to buy.
This doesn’t have to be limited to characters or traded art. You might release an in-app purchase called Hourglass (with a better name suited for your app) that reduces wait times permanently. Now users that buy the Hourglass aren’t just reducing an artificial delay, they have added to their shelf of collectibles.
In addition to collecting things, users also love gambling. Gacha mechanics is where you ask a user to pay to receive a random collectible. If you have multiple types of the same collectible, this can reduce confusion and add a lucrative feature in one go.
For example, from the above example, if you have multiple Hourglass items (Purple Hourglass, Green Hourglass, Super Hourglass), you could introduce a Gatcha feature where the user can pay to receive a random Hourglass.
Once you have many types of in-app purchases, an effective way to consolidate is to introduce in-app currency. In-app currency is usually reserved for larger and more complex apps. Implementing your own in-app currency can often increase your revenue by adding another layer between real currency and virtual currency, making it more confusing for the user to understand how much they are really paying for your app.
These are a few examples of methods that capitalize on patterns recognized in users, and there are many more. To know what monetization methods to use, you’ll have to get to know your users.
Sell to investors (Can I sell my app to Apple?)
If your app has an existing user base and a strong brand, consider selling it. Selling your app may seem like giving away your baby, but sometimes moving on will allow you to work on new ideas without the burden of having to support old apps on your own.
When you’re ready, use Bluethrone’s valuation tool to estimate your app’s value:
How to Sell an App on the App Store
It costs $99/year to create and maintain an Apple Developer account, using your Apple ID. Publishing your app is an investment. Don’t take it lightly! Creating a strong listing on the App Store is important for success.
Can I sell my apps on the App Store for Free?
There aren’t many alternative places to sell iOS Apps with good revenue potential, unlike with Android. Apple has designed the App Store to be the one-stop-shop for iOS apps. The upside is that this creates an environment of quality and trust, which is one reason why the iPhone app market is so lucrative.
Getting approved by Apple
Apple’s approval process is more strict and rigid than Android, but once you have done it a few times you’ll get the hang of it. The situation you want to avoid is making a careless mistake and being rejected right before an important sale or promotion.
Check the App Store review guidelines and pay close attention to each step while submitting your app. Check that your screenshots are the correct dimensions. Avoid touching on sensitive topics such as religion and sex in the description. Test your app again and again, before you upload it to your listing.
If you are short on time, you can ask Apple for an expedited review to get your app approved faster. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait 1-3 days for each review.
Tips to Get the Most Out of your App Sell
Develop a high-quality app
An unappealing app won’t sell regardless of how well it is marketed or monetized. Research your target audience and similar apps. Build a unique, high-quality app that stands out from the rest.
Marketing is scary, but people need to see your app. At the end of the day, good marketing is nothing more than getting to know your users and gaining an understanding of the psychology of your users.
One of the best ways to market your app is to get Apple to feature it on the App Store. Getting Apple to feature your app can be difficult but is possible if you have the right connections or if your app really stands out.
Asking people to review your app is another good idea. Reviews for your app generate legitimacy and make it inviting. Wouldn’t you rather download an app with a bunch of reviews (even if they’re not all five-star reviews) and media attention rather than an app that has generated zero buzz?
When emailing a reviewer for a review, be concise. Grab their attention in the subject field. Something like [App Name + Why It’s Different] is a good place to start. Avoid vague lines like “Review Request” or “Hello, I was wondering if you had time to review my app...”.
Take screenshots of your app, videos of people using it, and other marketing materials to help make your app more appealing. Ideally, consolidate all of these into a presskit. Include a download link so that reviewers can find your app.
Consider contacting reviewers and the industry through Twitter instead. Many find Twitter to be a more effective communication tool than email.
We’re talking about building relationships with the industry and media. Often, companies and experienced developers have direct contacts at Apple that will feature them on the App Store on demand. Reviewers that know you are more likely to respond to your review requests.
It doesn’t have to be a drop-in-the-pond struggle to get noticed. Attending events and getting to know people in the app world can be daunting but it helps so much to get involved with the community. Show up and meet people, and people will support you and your app!
Get to know your users
Getting to know who your users are and what they want out of your app is a great way of improving. You might get to know who your “whales” are; the minority of your users who drive 50% or more of your revenue. By getting to know them, you might find out some of their frustrations, or oppositely, places where they would pay to engage more with your app.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Selling an iOS App
Target Exploding Niches
If your app is not selling, perhaps you are targeting too general of an audience. One way to pivot might be to repurpose your app for a smaller niche that is taking off.
When paid apps flop
Many users prefer free apps, which is why only 6.1% of apps are paid. If your paid app is not performing well, try releasing a scaled-down free version of your app alongside the paid version.
At the end of the day, getting to know your users is the best way to know how to better sell your app. Simple changes might be the key to selling your iOS App. Good luck!