Camera+ Developer Provides Inside Look at App Store Success


Camera+ recently crossed the 2 million copies sold mark and blogged about its success Tuesday. Developer tap tap tap shared some info regarding the app’s success to date, and also provided us an inside look into how the studio minimizes its funding requirements while also maximizing its development investment.

In the blog post, tap tap tap founder John Casasanta noted that Camera+ took only three months to reach the 2 million sales mark, after it took more than double that time to reach the 1 million mark. If sales continue at their current pace, Camera+ is only 1.5 months away from the 3 million mark, but of course, Casasanta is quick to point out that that’s far from a prediction you can hang your hat on:

[W]ith the volatility of the App Store, our fortune could change in a heartbeat. The one thing you learn to count on as an iPhone app developer is not to count on future sales based on past performance.

App Store volatility aside, it looks like Camera+ enjoys very consistent numbers when it comes to user-initiated software updates. Casasanta found that more than half of its install base updated the app within six days of the update’s release. That indicates that users are keeping the software on their device, and also that iOS users are being diligent about updates, which is good news for developers who want to make sure experience is as uniform as possible across users.

Casasanta also revealed very specific figures regarding in-app purchases made through Camera+ in his blog post. Camera+’s in-app analog photgraphy effects pack has sold 98,169 copies since its introduction, which resulted in around $70,000 in revenue over a 4.5 month period. It’s not insignificant, but it also pales in comparison to the revenue generated by overall sales of the Camera+ app itself.

I asked Casasanta whether this reduced return meant that he would consider abandoning in-app sales in the future in order to focus on new product development, which in theory should be more profitable. In his email response, he outlined tap tap tap’s unique development model, and explained how it allows them to focus on both without really feeling the heat in terms of resource shortages.

Most of tap tap tap’s projects are done as revenue shares, Casasanta explains, which means that the people who work on them own a piece of the revenue generated by the product in perpetuity. This means chasing funding and pleasing investors is less of an issue for the studio, and it can instead focus on having many projects in the pipeline at once with very low overhead. Casasanta revealed that tap tap tap “currently [has] about 15 projects in the works,” and he argues that “each will likely turn out far better than they would’ve if we just hired a bunch of contractors to create them because the people involved have a big sense of ownership in their respective projects.”

Even with the company’s revenue sharing approach, Casasanta says that balancing time resources put towards the development of in-app content vs. that spent on new features can be a tricky process. Clarity, for example, was originally considered as a candidate for in-app purchase, but the team decided to include it for free. Casasanta explains how tap tap tap decides what becomes a paid feature, and what becomes a free update:

The general guideline for us regarding whether to charge for a feature or not is… if it’s something that mostly everyone can make use of, include it for free, and if it’s a more “vertical” feature, it opens the door to in-app purchase. The word-of-mouth that comes with including a big feature for free likely more than makes up for any additional income that would come in from charging for it.

In the end, Casasanta thinks that apps that depend on generating revenue exclusively from selling photo effects through in-app purchases are unlikely to succeed. Yet in other domains, such as social gaming, in-app purchasing is clearly a winner. This data from tap tap tap provides a good example of how freemium is far from a panacea when it comes to making money in the App Store, and also that securing external funding isn’t a prerequisite to making a great app.

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