Over the past week or so, the Apple community has been abuzz with a series of blog posts on the realities of trying to make a living on the App Store.
"Indie developers"--those who derive most of their income from selling software as a one-person shop--are nothing new. Many of the most venerable Mac and iOS apps around, from RSS reader NetNewsWire to popular read-it-later app Instapaper, have been developed and launched by independent entrepreneurs working on their own time and dime.
A tale of code, toil, and woe
This doesn't mean that going at it alone is all rainbows and ponies, however: As the various App Stores have become more saturated, the bar to publishing a successful app has inevitably gotten higher and higher. After all, more apps means more competition, and established brands can generally only be unseated by either significantly better features or significantly bigger marketing budgets--both of which are hard for a lone developer to invest in.
This is a particularly hard-hitting truth in the iOS world, where the App Store is the only channel through which software can be sold. Big brands greatly underestimated the popularity of Apple's ecosystem in the first years of its existence, leaving the market wide open to a gold rush of independent developers who both created many innovative apps and made a very good living from them.
These days, trying to get a successful app on the App Store means duking it out with a combination of deep-pocketed giants who keep exerting a downward pressure on the average price of software, and a mature market in which many categories--weather apps and RSS readers come to mind as examples--are flooded with products that are, on average, pretty good at what they do. As Unread developer Jared Sinclair illustrated in a recent blog post, having a highly polished app with plenty of positive reviews is no longer a guarantee of making big bucks.
Not all bad news
Not all is lost for the indie developer, however. Things are--at least anecdotally--better on the Mac side of this equation, probably due to a combination of factors.
For one thing, Mac developers enjoy a less-crowded marketplace, since the Mac App Store has only a fraction of the apps that can be found in its iOS counterpart. OS X software also enjoys a higher average price point, not the least because developers always have the option of selling their products independently of Apple's distribution channel.
And, to be fair, there are still plenty of success stories even in the iOS world. While Unread's story is far from atypical, a number of indies have chimed in with blog posts of their own, in which they outline how they have been able to do well in the face of stiffer competition and market complexities.
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