February 25, 2009 by Tap
In a follow-up to a previous post (which ironically was titled 'Translating fun into profit with Android') Android developer Ed Burnette laments the poor sales of his paid Android app, Re-Translate Pro. Interestingly, Ed provides some install figures from his Market Developer Console for both the initial free version and the paid version which he released last week. These figures alone provide some insights into the challenges facing Android developers and serve as a warning to those who see paid apps as a way to making easy money.
By all accounts, Re-Translate is a well built, fun app which translates text from one language into another and then back again to the original language to see just how mangled the text can get (in this case using the Google Translate API). According to Ed, the free version received a lot of positive feedback and even an enquiry from a manufacturer to pre-install it on their upcoming Android phone. Console stats showed that the app was installed 35782 times which seemed to indicate that there was some revenue potential for a paid version.
Now I have to point out at this stage that I don't think money was the overriding factor in Ed's decision to release a paid version of Re-Translate. The app was originally developed as an example for his book, Hello, Android and I got the feeling from reading his earlier post that it was more about testing the market and discovering the in and outs of selling apps on Android Market. However, I'm sure that many developers would not approach things from the same perspective and this is where there are lessons to be learnt.
Needless to say, sales of the paid version of Re-Translate Pro have been disappointing – just 8 installs since its release, 3 of which were refunded. That's a far cry from the 35000+ free installs. So what's the deal? In part, I think it's human nature. Ed suspects that the poor sales are due to a lack of visibility in the Market but I suspect that even if he had great exposure, installs of the paid version would still be disappointingly low. Let's face it, Re-Translate may be fun but it doesn't really provide any lasting value. It's in our nature that when things are new and for free, we'll try almost anything, but force people to make some kind of a decision (i.e. pay $2.99) you immediately lose that effect. Couple that to that the fact that Google allows users to return apps within 24 hours and you have an environment that's not conducive to generating revenue from apps that don't provide any lasting value.
The bottom line is that while there is money to be made with paid Android applications, developers are going to have to work hard to generate returns. Apps that don't provide value are going to be punished and will simply disappear – that's the nature of a self-regulating environment like the Android Market. Of course some users will take advantage of Google's 24 hour refund policy but I still believe that for the vast majority of users, paying for something of value is not a problem. Overall I think that Google's model for the Android Market is sound and will result in a win-win for both developers and end-users alike.
You can read Ed's post here.