App Store Reality – Why You Won’t Pay For Apps, But Will For Coffee


This is worth more than many apps, that's why.
This is worth more than many apps, that's why.

In a fantastic blog post, designer Josh Lehman begs us all to stop using the metaphor that many of us, press and developer alike, continue to spout when we hear a complaint about the price of a $0.99 app. “Look,” we say, again and again, “you’ll spend $4 on a cup of coffee at (insert your favorite coffe brand here, usually Starbucks), why won’t you spend a paltry $1 on my app?”

Lehman sees through the falsity of this argument, and then shows us why this attitude isn’t selling apps, either, regardless of its accuracy.

The main argument Lehman presents is this: Starbucks is a known quantity with a trustworthy historical relationship with its customers. When you walk into Starbucks, you know what you’re getting. A $4 cup of coffee will be pretty much the same from visit to visit, and the more times you get that very same cup of coffee, the one that meets your $4 coffee expectations, your trust in the Starbucks experience rises.

Contrast that with a trip to the App Store. Your $1 app purchase will be wildly divergent, each and every time you purchase it. The $1 you spend in no way guarantees you the app or the experience you crave. As Lehman puts it, there’s no way customers can know what, exactly, that $1 purchase will garner.

“I already have 30 games on my phone, some of them very good. Do I need another one? I don’t play the 30 I have. The experience I’m going to get from adding one more game is not trustable. I’m assured of nothing. Last week I bought a game for 99 cents and it was terrible. I played it once, for 15 seconds. I could be shoving $1 straight down the toilet again for all I know.”

Secondly, argues Lehman, there is no such thing as a free cup of coffee at Starbucks. If there were, he says, the lines would be out the door. People would most likely stop paying for that very tasty $4 coffee fairly quickly and pick up the free coffee habit.

Instead of complaining about the essential cheapness of the average human being, says Lehman, developers (and us naysaying press folks, I’d wager), need to look at the reality of the situation. Some free apps are very good. Some are released by developers with nothing to gain but a good time making an app.

Developers that need to make a living from app development, he argues, need to understand this App Store reality, stop complaining, and learn how to make great apps work, whether they’re paid or free. There are ways to make money from both. Lehman names five specific ways to make paid apps work, including building an app that is unique, that doesn’t feel “easily replicated.” Give users something they find valuable to their daily lives, and find a way to show off the “craftsmanship” of your app, much in the same way as Starbucks has the tools of its trade on display.

Once developers do that, Lehman says, they’ll stop whining about money wasted on cups of coffee.

Source: Josh Lehman
Via: Daring Fireball
Image: Wikipedia

Deals of the Day

  • Guest

    No. Why I wouldn’t pay for an app but would for a cup of coffee is simply because of Apple. Apple currently does not allow transferring of purchases to new Apple IDs let alone change of the ID. Example, I wanted to change my Apple ID from my hotmail to but could not without creating a iTunes store account with If Apple just gives the option to change the ID while retaining all the purchases it would not deter people from buying. Simply because, at least for me, I wouldn’t want to buy, spend money and down the road have to repurchase apps just because I changed email service providers.

  • morpheus7503

    So I changed my Apple ID 4 times since I created it and all my purchases remain. There has never been a time you could not change your Apple ID. The problem you would run into is if you try to change your Apple ID to another e-mail that is already an Apple ID since you can not merge accounts. However I have change e-mail providers and changed my Apple ID and have never lost my purchases. I just did it again today as a matter of fact. I love when people blame companies for there lack of knowledge.

  • Neil

    The only flaw in the article is the reference to Starbucks as quality coffee.

  • Eitot

    I don’t fully agree with this analysis.

    For me, trustworthiness of the developer and the reviews is seldom an issue. I usually hesitate because I am asking myself whether I really need an app or not. My attitude towards apps is often that I use them only a few times but never often enough. Seemingly cheap apps might then be just a waste of money, even when it’s just €0,79. When there is an app of which I am sure that I would use it far more frequently, then I don’t hesitate at all and am even willing to pay more. Trusting the app only comes in second, after I assured myself that the app is useful to me.

    With coffee it is different. It is not that I expect good quality (I don’t always drink coffee at the same location) but because I have the urge to drink it. If I am craving for it, I buy it. Not because the coffee bar sells good quality. That comes only in after I have established that I want coffee.

    I think developers should put more effort into explaining to me why I need their apps. It is not always enough for me to have a description enumerating the features and providing some screenshots, when there is no practical information on how I could use it and how it improves my daily work. Evernote, for example, became far more interesting after I discovered via a review for which purposes it could be used. Then I am far more willing to buy it, knowing that it could be really useful.

  • RaptorOO7

    My App Store Purchases go in blocks, and has little to do with the price of coffee. Personally I won’t spend $4 on a cup of coffee anywhere I prefer to bring my own better coffee from home. The problem with the App Store is discover ability, there isn’t any. Trying to slog through the hundreds of thousands of apps to find something useful is just not easy.

    I do rely more on comments in the forums, articles like the one on here for Tiny Troopers (looks fun, will give it a try). Developers needs to offer a compelling app, build good recognition and ultimately cross their fingers they will get sales because Apple is not going to do anything useful to help them get promoted.

    After all Apple gets 30% of every sale and with that much profit do they have a reason to even bother making things easier.

  • Alfred2612

    Good stuff.

    If I buy a Starbucks coffee, I’m 99.999% guaranteed to get a nice cup of Joe.

    But if I buy an app from the App Store, there’s a 10% chance it won’t open or will crash (my experience, yours may differ), and a 50% chance it will be rubbish :)