How a dev doubled his revenue with an April Fools’ joke

This previously free app is making its developer some decent cash. Photo: Rob LeFebvre

This previously free book-cataloging app now makes its developer decent cash, thanks to some shrewd pricing moves. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

San Francisco-based developer Giacomo Balli doubled his take on his iPhone apps thanks to an April Fools’ Day joke. When he ratcheted up the price to an eye-popping $4.99 for an app that catalogs books, he got downloads instead of complaints.

The App Store lets devs change the sale price of their apps pretty much any time they like, but most folks take conventional routes: cutting prices during sales or dropping prices to free. Balli made his previously free apps premium with just a toggle.

“There weren’t any app updates, either,” he told Cult of Mac over the phone. “Just the price.”

At a time when more than half of all U.S. venture capital is flooding into the San Francisco Bay Area, getting consumers to find your apps in a crowded App Store is hard. The multipronged process required to garner attention for your app is arcane at best and impenetrable at worst. The crazy nature of this new, arbitrary app market has lead to a ton of crazy experiments with business models, just like Balli’s.

The apps in question, Find Tower and My Book List, are in relatively uncrowded categories (Navigation and Catalog, respectively). But Balli, who originally hails from Florence, Italy, thinks there’s more at work here.

First of all, the target demographic is slightly older for these apps. Balli is pretty sure this group associates a higher price point with quality, so bumping up the price gave his apps a higher perceived value. The second variable working in his favor is the way the App Store treats his apps on their respective category lists.

“The algorithm likes the fact that I’m pulling in higher revenue numbers overall,” he said, “including in-app purchases plus a premium price.”

He’s also profiting from advertisements. Balli made no changes to his apps when he priced them up: They still have in-app purchases and ads. People download them nevertheless, this time paying for the privilege. Before the April Fools’ joke, Find Tower was bringing in 600 downloads a day. After the price hike, the downloads dropped to 60 per day. But the revenue doubled.

When Balli toggles the app to free again for a one-day sale, he sees his downloads hit the roof — an average of 1,200 per day, which helps him stay high in the App Store charts. He still sees purchases when the app rises to its original price.

“I’m a big advocate of exploring monetization,” said Balli. “Devs should play around more and look at the data, not just do what other people are doing.”

Seems like it’s working for him.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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