December 22, 2022
Indie Dev Diaries #2: I made my app free for 24 hours. Was it worth it?

Around this time last year, I sat down and thought about ways to get my apps on more devices. At that time, I had noticed that several members of the iOS community that I follow on social media had taken part in Indie App Santa, which is essentially an advent calendar for discounted (and free) apps.

Throughout the month, I downloaded several of these apps, both as a user (I’m always on the lookout for productivity apps or games), and as a developer wanting to be inspired by sleek user interfaces. Some of these apps I hadn’t even heard of before, but they were really good, useful apps. It was clear that Indie App Santa was doing exactly what I was looking for: increasing downloads significantly for indie apps.

I made a vow to myself that I would take part in 2022, and that’s exactly what I did.

Making my way on to the calendar

Applications to be on the calendar opened in early September, where I had to provide details about the app I wanted to submit, what the discount would be, and a few other smaller details such as the app’s current rating in the App Store. I decided to enter my app Classifier, given that its target audience is somewhat broader than my other apps. Classifier is free to download, but offers 3 and 12 month recurring subscriptions. It also offers a one-time Lifetime option for $19.99, tailored for those who hate subscriptions; it was this option that I decided to offer for free.

I heard back a couple of weeks later that Classifier had been accepted, and I was invited to select which day of the advent calendar I would like (I selected December 14th). Taking part in Indie App Santa is not free - developers have to pay US$120 to take part, which helps pay for the overhead of running the event.

After this, the only thing I had to do was schedule the change of price for my In App Purchase (IAP) for December 14th, and then it’s a waiting game.

My goals

By being on the calendar, what exactly did I want to achieve? What are my KPIs? Setting these goals is very important so that I can measure the success after the event has finished. I ended up settling on 3 key goals:

1. Increase the number of 5* ratings and written reviews

By achieving this, I’d be getting a permanent benefit in that having more positive ratings and reviews would boost Classifier’s rankings in the App Store for common search terms. People who don’t know about the app aren’t going to search “Classifier” on the App Store. They’re going to search for something like “Collection Tracker” or “Coin Tracker”. Boosting my ranking for these sorts of search terms would be huge long-term.

2. Plant the seeds for the app to spread by word of mouth

Lets say several thousand people download the app, but only 1% even collect anything. That’s still potentially 50-100 collectors who now know about Classifier. If even a handful of those are connected to other collectors in their respective communities, there’s a fair chance they’ll talk about Classifier. As a member of the license plate collecting community, I’m a member in several groups. I hardly talk about the app in these groups, but I’ve seen several other members share screenshots and recommending the app. Being able to plant the seed in other collecting groups is massively important for the long-term success of Classifier.

3. Increase the number of free trial starts and lifetime purchases in the following days

It is inevitable that word of the promotion will reach some people when it’s too late. For these people, I’m hoping that they’ll be able to try out the app and see that it’s still worth paying for. This may be a hard sell however, given they know that the app was being given away for free just hours before! Thanks for reading Roddy’s Indie Dev Diaries! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

The big day (+ a few hours beforehand)

Something that I still don’t quite understand is how Apple propagate changes in IAP prices. I figured the change would have shown at midnight in each user’s timezone, but it seems like that’s not the case. Folks in the Western US could see the discount before midnight their time, but others in Europe couldn’t until 5 or 6 hours later. This meant I woke up to about 20 emails from users complaining they couldn’t see the discount, but by the time I had responded to them all, they could all see the discount.

Classifier uses RevenueCat to handle its subscriptions, so I was able to see in real-time all the lifetime purchases coming in via the RCKit app on my iPhone. There were redemptions literally every 2 seconds. I love that RCKit shows you the country the purchase was made in - I saw flags on pretty much every continent. It was a great feeling to know that Classifier was making its way to devices all over the world!

As the day went by, I was made aware that Classifier had also been featured on AppAdvice, a website dedicated to showcasing various apps on the App Store. Classifier was at the top of their ‘Apps Gone Free’ segment, which brought an entirely new audience for the app. Additionally, a spike in downloads in Brazil could probably be attributed to a feature by Brazilian website MacMagazine.

The app was also featured on the r/AppHookup subreddit, gaining almost 200 upvotes and being the most upvoted post for that particular week. It was interesting reading comments from redditors about how they planned to use the app!

Charting for the first time

Something I had picked up on from observing other Indie App Santa participants was that they would often make their way on to the ‘Top ’ charts on the App Store. Until this point, I had never had an app make its way on to the charts, so I was keen to see if I would break this streak.

Using AppFigures, I was able to view the App Store rankings for every app category, in every country the App Store was available in. I checked in at several points during the day for a few select countries, and found that Classifier appeared on several charts:

Utilities - Free

  • US - 132
  • Canada - 68
  • UK - 105
  • Australia - 189
  • New Zealand - 149

It’s unlikely that a user would scroll down these charts this far, however it was a nice feeling to achieve this for the first time in my indie development career! As seen from the Canadian App Store 🇨🇦

The immediate aftermath

Going back to my point about it not being clear about when changes in IAP prices take effect, problems also came about at the end of the sale. I woke up to about 40 emails this time from users complaining that the discount was no longer showing, which was a lot on my plate given I had a full-time job to prioritize! Some of these users had even completed the purchase and paid for the app, only to want a refund because they thought it was free. I was happy to provide instructions for requesting a refund via the App Store.

The emails didn’t stop there though! Remember that AppAdvice feature?

It wasn’t until close to midday on the 15th that they updated their ‘Apps Gone Free’ page. Even though the date ‘December 14th’ was clear at the top of the page, I had several users email to say “they thought the app was free” and that they were “disappointed”. In the spirit of the season, I gave the majority of them free promo codes so that they didn’t miss out (save for the ones who were rude); I figured it was unlikely they were going to pay anyway. In addition, I mentioned that a positive review should they enjoy the app would go a long way to helping others discover Classifier. I’ll expand on this beneficial tactic in a future post. :)

Time to analyse

Later in the day, the number of emails coming in subsided, and I was able to start looking in to the metrics. Over the course of the 14th and 15th, Classifier had over 9,000 installs, and just under 6,000 free lifetime redemptions. This was more installs than Classifier has had since it was first made available around this time last year!

Revenue also peaked during this timeframe. RevenueCat was showing about CA$2,000 in revenue (approximately US$1470), however the App Store Connect number was closer to US$600. The figure given in RevenueCat doesn’t recognise promo code redemptions as free, so they get tallied in. Additionally there were around US$300 in refunds that weren’t accounted for, for those that “accidentally” purchased once the promo period had ended.

Have you ever seen your daily proceeds go below $0 for a day?! 🙃

So then… was it worth it?

First, lets go over my 3 goals and see how I did against those metrics.

1. Increase the number of 5* ratings and written reviews

Before the event began, I had 18 ratings (across all countries) at an average of 4.4. As of writing (a week after the event), Classifier now has 50 ratings, still at an average of 4.4. Several users also took the time to write a review, which is always a nice feeling.

2. Plant the seeds for the app to spread by word of mouth

It’s tough to measure this. The number of Daily Active Users (DAUs) has increased to 200 on average, up from around 30, so you could argue that the seeds have been planted. But whether those seeds will germinate and result in more downloads remains to be seen.

3. Increase the number of free trial starts and lifetime purchases in the following days

This target was met somewhat. You’ll see from the previous section that there were lots of lifetime purchases (a percentage of which ended up being refunds). Classifier also had 78 free trial starts, which last for 7 days. So far, 18 of those converted, which isn’t too bad given there were 46 active subscriptions before the event!

In Conclusion

Throughout the day and immediately afterwards, I felt immense satisfaction based on the initial numbers that I was seeing in RevenueCat. However, after the dust settled and I was able to see the “real” numbers in App Store Connect, some of that satisfaction dissipated.

Yes, my app had made its way to almost 10,000 new users, and I had made a bit more money in the process. But how many of those users are actually my target market? How many are hobby collectors, but serious enough to want to spend the time to digitize their collections? The truth is, since December 16th, Classifier has been averaging 200 Daily Active Users (DAUs), which is a big improvement on before.

I’d say in the short-term, taking part in Indie App Santa has been worth it. The longer-term benefits remain to be seen, but right now DAUs are up by almost ten-fold, active subscriptions increased by 39%, and that’s in addition to the lifetime purchases that weren’t refunded.

Would I take part again? Yes, but not for Classifier. I would only take part again if it was for a different app that would be useful for the masses, though as of writing, I don’t have any other apps suitable for this!

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