Joe Cieplinski, in response to my post about paid apps, and in particular my closing statement that the glory days of paid-up-front are over:
I don’t disagree with most of what he wrote. But when I get to a line like the one I just quoted above, I’m reminded of exactly what bothers me about most blog articles from app developers: “This is true for me, so it must be true for everyone and every other app in the universe.” The one-size-fits-all mentality that caused the race to the bottom in the first place continues. …
There are many other kinds of apps where moving to this sort of model might make a lot of sense, too. It’s certainly worth careful consideration. But the problem arrives when you assume that all iOS users think and behave alike, and therefore all apps must be monetized similarly.
That would be a fair point if I hadn’t written this line in the original post:
Apps targeting niche markets can still find enough paying customers to stay alive if they’re much better than any free alternatives, but the number of apps in that situation is always shrinking.
Cieplinski sells Teleprompt+. It’s exactly the sort of niche market that will be able to sustain paid-up-front pricing for a while longer than mass-market apps, maybe even indefinitely.
But searching for “teleprompter” in the App Store today brings up about 40 other iPad teleprompter apps. About a third of them are free, and almost none are anywhere near Teleprompt+’s $14.99 price, with most paid alternatives around $3–5. And that’s just for iPad — the iPhone app market is much larger and even more competitive in most app categories.
Cieplinski claims his app is the best, and that will sustain his ability to charge a relatively high price. But when even a niche as seemingly specialized as iPad teleprompter software gets so crowded that there are 40 of them, it’s probably only a matter of time before a few of the free ones are good enough to severely reduce the sales of the paid apps, if that hasn’t already happened.
The ultra-narrow, very-high-priced, very-low-volume markets of extreme specialization, custom development, and specialized enterprise software will always exist, but the “middle class” paid-app economy is being gutted by the oversupply of free apps reaching into ever-more-specialized niches.
There are a lot of developers making a lot of iOS apps, and competition is fierce. It’s unwise to assume that any profitable niche is safe from being undercut by free alternatives.