It’s been more than one year that I wrote “How I've Made $200k in the iOS Education Market” post which has been well received by the indie community (it was ranked #1 in Hacker News!), so I think it’s time to make a follow-up and share my 2012 experience in the education market. For the background, I’m a french full-time indie dev that started doing educational apps when the iPad was released. I decided to go in this market because with my wife we decided to homeschool our kids some years ago, and I believed that the iPad would be a great for kids to learn and be creative.
In this article, I talk about my sales, strategy, marketing but also on the education market in a broader view and what did change this year. The goal is show some data to understand what is happening in this market, and help/inspire others indies to take smart decisions.
If you want to check my apps, you can go to my website : http://lescapadou.com
Sales and Ranks
So let’s start by a sale graphic (all graphics are generated via appfigures.com ) to see what did happen since 2010 when I release my first app Montessori Crosswords.
So it’s really great. When I started 2.5 years ago I really didn’t think it was possible to make so much money in the iOS education market. Fortunately, the iPad market has exploded and people have realized that their kids can learn on the iPad while having fun. One year ago -when I wrote the first article- I was really skeptic that I would be able to maintain such income especially because it is very difficult to stay visible when hundreds of apps are released everyday, but since the market is growing I think it compensates the loss of visibility.
Let’s see what did happen since one year:
So my first app -“Montessori Crosswords” - is still the most profitable, and I haven't done a major update for at least one year. I think it is what happens when you create a well-received app that has a large user base (149K units sold so far) : the word of mouth works (and also Apple keep it in its education list). There is a kind of inertia that keeps your app from disappearing from the charts. The result is that it is usually ranked between 40 and 60 in iPad education. I think that there is also a kind of inertia for Word Wizard (94K units sold), because sales are more or less stabilized.
Note: I think that my expenses are about $35K this year (some devices, pay some ads and expedited review, a trip to a conference, but the most expensive is that I have to give back some royalties to the text to speech company for the software I use in Word Wizard)
Here are the iPad ranking of both apps to correlate sales with ranking - but note that rankings are not influenced if a school do a volume purchase (and there is a lot of them in the US - see below).
So it’s nice to see that 27% of my income come from apps that are not in English, but almost exclusively from France where I live, and where I started to release apps in 2010 (first to market is always very important). France is a small market compared to the US, but since my apps are usually in the top 10 education it gives good results (from memory it seems that the french educational market is 10 times smaller than the US one). In addition, it seems that cross marketing is working better in France. For the record, my french apps are usually ranked between 100-150 on iPad overall.
I really believe Word Wizard is an unique app, and that’s why I decided to release it in several languages (even in Finnish!). It takes me 2-3 weeks to localize it + translation cost (about 100$/200$) but sales in Spanish and German are really not good mainly because of the lack of marketing I think. On the other hand, Swedish and Finnish are working very well relatively to the market size. I think it easier to be visible in these markets because there is a less competition (and local blogs like PappasAppar.se may help you a lot - thanks Daniel !)
So from a strict profitability point of view, I think it would be wiser to spend less time creating localized version and work on a new English app (except for french apps of course) because it's easier for me to be visible in the US. But I’m still believing that it can be profitable can be successful in some countries if it is well marketed, and I will release a Dutch Word Wizard version soon. You can read more about my localization issues in this post.
I also made an effort to add English and Australian voices in my new app (Montessori Numbers and Word Wizard) but it does not make a big difference for the moment (except for the new Australian voice in Word Wizard 3.0). I decided to add an Australian voice because some people asked for it, and it was pretty easy to do it (but for Montessori Crosswords it was too much work and I did not do it).
For the record, here are the details per country (for 2012).
The Good News : Volume Purchase (by School)
As you can see in the previous graphic , the good news in 2012 is that purchases made by school have exploded (in the graphic, the last column is the number of educational purchases) . Actually 36% of Word Wizard purchases in the US have been made by schools in 2012 (23% for Montessori Crosswords) ! Canada has also started to buy apps at the end of 2012.
Note that these sales are not taken into account for the ranking in the app store.
Like every year, I released an educational app beginning of August. This time, I wanted to tackle how kids learn numbers because my 6 year old was beginning to be very interested in numbers. We are a homeschooling family with a lot of educational resources and, one more time, when I checked all the resources we have, the Montessori material was the best and I decided to add some magic in this material in an iPad version. It was very fun to do and I was very happy with the result.
The app was very well received : featured by Apple in education category for more than one month, it received a design award from Children’s Technology Review, 5-stars reviews on several blogs, got an nice article in Wired’s GeekDad about all my Montessori apps, mentioned on NBCnews.com,... I also spend a lot of times doing the marketing (contacting blogs, PR, trailers, web site,…), and sales were very good ! But as soon as it was no more featured by Apple (beginning of October), it dropped very,very fast as you see below.
I knew that it will happen, and decided that to do what I did for my two others apps: doing a really nice update and market it . So I added a new tracing activity where kids can draw with animated sprites and added support for iPhone. It has been released a few days ago. However, I think the timing is not good because I released just before Christmas. Christmas is really a busy period since everybody releases apps and offer promotions, and even if the update contains almost a new tracing app, the update may be almost invisible. Actually I didn’t want to release it for Christmas but it was harder to develop than I expected, and I’ve also others updates to do (Word Wizard 3.0 especially). Perhaps it would have been wiser to release it beginning of January.
Here is the video of the new tracing activity:
My mission is to release great educational apps that empowers kids and let them experiment freely so that they learn this way. I realized that it is only possible to release one app like this a year because it takes a lot of times to do everything (user experience/design/ development/ graphics/ marketing/updates) . So my strategy is to create a very good app each year, localize it in french (and other market if is not too much work), and also update regularly my existing apps based on the parents’ and teachers’ feedback until I don’t have major requests, and sales are more or less stabilized. This way I can also keep a $2.99 price because of the quality of the app. For example, this year I worked on Word Wizard 3.0 and added a lot of users' and parents' requests such as user profiles, detailed user reports, support for numbers, Australian voice.
I could release more “smaller” apps but I’m more interested in building a product I’m really proud of. Like everybody, I have to stay motivated and to stay motivated the more important is to do what you like (of course, you have to balance this with a kind of business model...).
Now, it may be a good idea to delegate some works - like marketing and graphics - to create more apps. I love doing artworks but that’s not my best skill, and it takes me a lot of times to create something I like (I think that this year it is was 20% of my time). I don’t like marketing but it’s mandatory, and it is perhaps time to delegate a part of this work.
Why it’s working pretty well for me
- I create great apps according to reviewers, and there is market the kind of app I do
- I was there where the iPad was released, and it was really easier to let people know about you, and so now marketing is easier
- Apple seems to love my apps and promote them (perhaps one of the most important point)
- I market my apps (more below)
- I’ve got a nice user base and so I can cross-market my apps
- Educational purchase are beginning to be really nice
You can find a lot of app marketing articles on the web that explains you how to let everybody know about your new app, and as everybody reports, it takes a lot of times. Basically here is what I do for outbound marketing.
Description, App Name, Icons, screenshots, keywords
You should spend a lot of time on title, icon, screenshots and description because once a potential buyers is on the App Page, it is what make him buy the app or not. So check how successful apps are doing this job. Choosing keywords is pretty difficult, some new services may help you to make your choice (http://www.appcod.es/ https://searchman.com/ ), but there is a lot competition on many keywords nowadays.
This is good to be reviewed on blogs because it gives you some visibility (for a short period) and also it allows you to quote the review in your description and PR. Now if you want to be reviewed in a blog, you have to pay for an expedited review because there are too much apps released now. My understand is that having a blog (+ facebook/twitter) takes a lot of times and most of bloggers realized that if they want to continue to spent a lot of their times on this, they need to make money in a way or another - and developers were ready to pay for that.
Here are some important sites:
Actually the best is to check this list:
and this post
You should also submit your educational app to Children’s Technology Review. It’s not a blog but a magazine that is well recognized in the industry (and it’s free to submit!).
You can buy ads on blogs, and it can be helpful to launch an app but don’t expect a good ROI. The issue with ads is that apps are so cheap that you would need a lot of clicks to have a positive ROI, but it’s clear that it cannot hurt and it helps to promote your brand.
When you buy an ad, the good thing is that some blogs may also offer you to do a promo codes give away, write an expedited review, or post something on FB which can help to have positive ROI.
PR is cheap if you use PRmac.com and it cannot hurt (if you think you need a broader audience try PRweb.com).
From times to times, it’s nice to reduce the price of your app and contact all blogs to let them know (you can release also a PR for that). Do not do that often and correlate with an event if you can (10K sold, anniversary,...). You should also try to see if your promos can be featured in AppFridays by momswithapps
You can also do some give away and offer promo codes via blogs. You can also organize some contests to offer iTunes Gifts cards (I didn’t do it but it’s a nice way to make people talk about you).
if you have several apps, you should - of course- cross market your apps. Provide a section in your apps where people can check all your apps. Since it is app for kids, you should put a mechanism to prevent kids to enter this section. I don’t have hard numbers but when one my app is the top 20, all my others apps sales are better
A facebook page (and twitter account) is of course a good way to stay in touch with your users but it takes a lot of efforts to get followers. To do it professionally, it really takes a lot of time (which I don’t have), so I just post from time to time news and promos codes.
End Note on Marketing
A well orchestrated app release including blogs/promos/PR really makes a difference (the last good example I see -just last- week- was the release of Splash Money by StudyPad) but remember that it’s a lot of work, and the difficult part is also to stay visible when the promotion is finished. And, of course, you need a great app so that marketing works...
Getting feedback on your apps
Feedback is really important to make your app better and stay them alive. So in your app you should have a feedback button (in a protected parent zone). But unfortunately not a lot of people will send you an email, but sometimes you will get very good feedback. You should also read carefully the reviews on the App Store and ask all people what they think about your apps.
Testing your beta version is now very easy thanks to TestFlight, so try to find some people that can test your app - you won't regret it !
There is also a nice service - reviewfordev.com- that will allow you to get feedback from users on your app or upcoming app (text or video reviews). I tested the service with Word Wizard and a pre-release of Montessori Numbers and the feedback was very useful and detailed (you can choose the type of reviewers you want: parents, teachers, SLPs etc.). Even better, the service has also now partnership with some of the main kids app reviewers so that the reviews will appear on several blogs as well which is really great for marketing.
You can also check the app assessment tool at http://betterappsonline.com/. I did the self-assessment for one of my app and the questions were very precise and highlighted some points where my app can be enhanced. I plan to use this feedback more extensively in my next app. They also offer additional services beyond the self-assessment tool to help developers build quality apps but I did not try this yet.
Staying up to date/Networking
It is really important to discuss with others devs so that you can have a better understanding of the market, get some feedback, etc.. It is also a good way to meet people and stay motivated when your work alone. Momswithapps forum (http://momswithapps.com/ ) is really a great place to look for information, but since several months most of the discussion now in Facebook groups. Check this article that reference a lot of groups
It may also be a good idea to meet “real” people. This year, I went to Dust and Magic App Camp (http://dustormagic.com/) which is organized by Children’s Technology review (http://childrenstech.com/). It was very nice and I plan to go back this year. Listening to talks by leaders in the field, and talking with real people make a difference, and I went back very motivated.
Twitter is surely a good place to communicate but I don’t have the time to do it - so I can’t really offer my feedback on this.
The App Store in 2012
There is no kids category on the App Store, and a lot of publishers use the education category because this is a good category to target parents that buy apps for their kids. There is a games for kids category but it is a sub category and it’s not easy to view this category in the App Store. In addition, in IOS6, Apple added a button to go directly to the education category on the iPad’s App Store main page.
So the education category is now filled with a lot games for kids (check how many Toca Boca apps are in the education category) and it is harder and harder to have a good rank in education. But the good point is that Apple features a lot of indie educational apps in the new and noteworthy list, and it helps some us to get some visibility. Apple also provides educational lists (learn to write,...) which are useful for parents.
iPad vs iPhone
I think it's now clear that educational apps are selling better on iPad, but I don't have hard numbers since Apple doesn't tell developer how many apps are selling on each device and can't really compare. However, the top 10 education on iPhone must be very profitable as well, even if apps are usually cheaper on iPhone.
The search algorithm has been updated this year and it now favors free apps. For example, Montessori Crosswords was ranked #1 on “spelling” keyword but now it is only #34 (#8 if you remove free apps). So I think I lost a lot of sales due to the algorithm changes. So now, it seems that a freemium apps would be a better choice if you want to have better ranking in the search results.
More (big) publishers/ More Competition
In 2012, a lot of apps have been released by big publishers like Nickelodeon, Disney and PBS and their apps are of course in the top of the charts (you can’t beat Dora or Mickey). There is also a lot of smaller brands that have their own app (Starfall, Writing without tears,...) and, of course, there are also more small/indie publishers. So more competition, and thus it's harder to enter in the market nowadays.
iPad Top Grossing
If you look at the education top grossing chart, you can see:
- there are more freemium apps than last year (not a surprise due to the change of the search algorithm)
- Some expensive apps are (still) performing well - e.g. Articulation Station for SLPs, Injini for special needs, and of course Proloquo2go)
- and of course, there is a lot of branded apps
All the money is in the top
It’s not an exclusive news but it’s always good to know that most of the money goes to a few apps (you can check this on the Montessori Numbers sales graphics when it was in the top 10 edu). So if you have a very successful app it can really be profitable. But it is also very nice to see that you can make decent money even if you are ranked #100 in US iPad education.
As you can read everywhere, it’s clear that there is less money on Android but there is some (and less competition perhaps). I didn’t want to go on Android because I don’t have the time to do it, but eventually I did a deal with a friend : he did the Android version of Montessori Crosswords and I give him 30% of income (actually it is called Montessori Words because my friend didn’t have the time to do the crosswords section...). I put the app on Amazon and Google and I now sold about 20-30 units a day which is not so bad, but it’s clear that it is not easy to enter the Android market even if you have a successful app on iOS.
I’ve been contacted by the guys that do the licensing for Garfield (the cat). They told me that they would love to do a Garfield version of my apps for their not for profit “Professor Garfield” organization. We decided to release a Garfield version of Montessori Words on the Nook because Nook people contacted them to release apps on the Nook - promising them some free marketing. Unfortunately, Nook team did not promote the app and I think we sold less than 50 units so far ! So another lesson that without marketing, your app can be invisible - even if it features Garfield and is based on an app that is successful on iOS.
So eventually what do I do everyday ? I think I did spent less time on marketing this year because I was tired of it : Development (30%), Product Definition and User Experience Design (30%), Artworks/Graphics (20%), marketing (15%), Support and everything else (5%). You can check my last year post for details about these activities and more details about my background.
OK I think it’s all for 2012. I hope that this information can help some indie devs out there, and let me know if you want more information !