With Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference coming up on June 8-9, it's time to check in with L+E's favorite iPhone App developer, Roger von Oech. Roger is the author of the creativity classic A Whack on the Side of the Head, and the inventor of the Ball of Whacks and the X-Ball.
Earlier this year, Roger turned his Creative Whack Pack card deck into an iPhone App called the Creative Whack Pack. Roger refers to it as "the App's store's premier creative thinking/innovation tool." I did several posts on it the week it launched in March.
DA: So what's happened with the Creative Whack Pack app since you launched it in mid-March?
RvO: I've learned that visibility is everything at the App Store — there are 30,000+ apps all competing for attention but only a few get noticed; the rest get buried. Selling an app is like having a booth at a huge bazaar. You probably won't get noticed unless you're near one of the entrances or on a corner.
DA: How did you get visibility for the Creative Whack Pack?
RvO: The blogging community was vital in my launch. I've been blogging since 2006, and I was able to turn to a number of fellow bloggers for help in promoting the Whack Pack and get the word out.
You were kind enough to post about it. Chuck Frey of Innovation Tools did an in-depth review. Guy Kawasaki tweeted about on Twitter. Robert Scoble had me on his TV show for forty-five minutes. Mark McGuiness and Paul Williams did interviews with me.
These posts led to about twenty-five other posts about the product and generated a lot of good word of mouth. I worked hard at this, but I felt that this was a better strategy than buying ads or relying on iPhone review sites. I'm really grateful to the bloggers who supported my marketing efforts.
DA: What did that do for product sales?
RvO: It helped enormously. Within several weeks, the Creative Whack Pack rose to the Top Ten of the Business category. This was crucial. Far and away the best exposure you can get for your app is on the App Store itself. There are a limited number of places where apps are high-lighted on the store: "New and Noteworthy," "What's Hot," and "Staff Favorites." Each of these has room for only 32 Apps.
The only other place for visibility is the Top 100 of your category, e.g., Games, Lifestyle, Sports, Utilities, etc. One media firm has said that there's "an order of magnitude" difference between being on the Top 100 and being buried further down. And obviously being higher up, i.e., in the top 20 or top 10, is better.
DA: What happened then?
RvO: At this point I get very, very lucky. I was ranked #6 in Business. This got me enough attention for Apple to place the Creative Whack Pack on the front page of their "What's Hot" listing. Most of their selections are games, but the Creative Whack Pack is different enough that I guess they wanted to add some variety.
Basically, the "What's Hot" section is four pages of 8 App icons each. If you're selected, you spend one week on page one, one week on page two, and so on. The impact was immediate: sales jumped to a thousand units a day for the first days and then slowly declined over the four weeks I was there.
The best part was that the Creative Whack Pack was ranked #1 in the Business category for two weeks.
DA: What happened after your app went off the "What's Hot" list?
RvO: This is when I learned some important lessons about price sensitivity on the App Store. "How much should I charge for my app?" is one of the biggest questions developers have, and I'm not sure there's any one right answer. I will, though, share my experience.
For the first two months, I charged $4.99. I thought this was a fair price because I had a similar product in the real world — the Creative Whack Pack card deck — that sold for $16. I was able to get away with this price because my early traffic consisted mainly of blog referrals, and these people were positively predisposed to the Whack Pack and thus prepared to pay a premium.
When I was on "What's Hot," I was able to keep my price at $4.99, again because Apple said this was a good product.
But after I went off "What's Hot," sales dropped significantly, and the Whack Pack fell to #10 in Business. I quickly realized that without a lot of blog referrals (these were all a month in the past and we all know how ephemeral the blogosphere is), I could no longer command a premium price.
At this point I cut the price to $2.99 (which is where it is now), and my unit sales immediately went back up. I decided that it was better to have more units sales (although with a smaller margin). I was getting an instant lesson in pricing!
DA: What does this tell you about price sensitivity on the App Store?
RvO: I think the App Store is quite price sensitive. I think that's why so many apps are free or $0.99. A lot of people just want to play with an app for five minutes or so a few times and then move on. You've got to have a pretty compelling reason to get them to spend more money.
I'd be curious to see what your readers think about pricing on the App Store.
DA: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about creating an App for the iPhone App Store?
RvO: I've had a number of people ask me for my advice to help them turn their "winning ideas" into an iPhone App.
The most important thing (from my point of view) is: Don't do it for the money. I think you need to be clear on what your motives are for creating your app. If getting rich is at the top of your list, then you're setting yourself up for a big disappointment.
A lot of people are jumping in because creating an App Store for the iPhone is the "Gold Rush of 2009." I don't have any Apple inside information, but my gut tells me that over 90% of apps that go on sale in the App Store don't make back the money it cost to produce them. I see a lot of Apps "newly released" each day, but few of them show up in the "Top 100" of their category.
These were my motives for creating my App (in descending order):
- I wanted to learn something.
- I wanted to put my creativity ideas in a new medium.
- I wanted to have fun.
- I wanted to make some money (if possible).
All of these happened for me, but I'm not so sure this would have been the case if I had these motives in the reverse order initially.
DA: What's next for the Creative Whack Pack?
RvO: I've just released Version 2.0 this past weekend. The big new feature is "Note-Taking Creative Workshops." In my years as a creativity consultant, I've found that when attendees write down their ideas and answers to prompts and questions, their inspiration increases an order of magnitude. The result: note-taking leads to more productive creative sessions!
I hope to keep listening to my customers, and add some of their suggestions to future releases.
DA: Thanks for your time Roger. Good luck with the product.
RvO: Thank you, David. Let me just add that selling on the App Store has been quite an interesting experience. I recommend it to anyone willing to pursue it!