Pocket Lists iPhone app sales figures: $13500 in first 3 months

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Our iPhone app Pocket Lists brought us $13500 in first 3 months (after Apple’s 30% cut), and we would like to share our experience with our fellow-self-funded-indie developers.

Category: Productivity (to-do & checklist app)
Price: initially priced at $4.99, then settled to $1.99
Developed in: 10 months from scratch to version 1.0
Team: 2 people (1 designer and 1 programmer)
Money spent on advertising: about $1000 on efforts to get the app noticed (mostly on paid app reviews)
Funding: Self. We are indie developers. If you are low on a promotion budget, our experience may shed some light on sales numbers you may expect in the beginning.
App localizations: English, Russian. The app was initially released and promoted in these two languages, and in two App Stores: US and Russia.

The first month $1263

The application was released on December 1st, 2011 and priced at $4.99. We were complete newbies in releasing iPhone apps, so we did not care about hyping the release. We were hoping that the app will be featured in its category right from the start, but it wasn’t. When the app was released, it was immediately lost among other apps in the App Store. Sales were about $5—10/day.

A week passed, and nothing was changing. Reducing the app price to zero (free) for one day helped a bit and brought about 10’000 free downloads. The app went up in top charts, and when the free offering ended, sales kept on a $100/day level for a couple of days, but then returned back to $5-10/day. Free giveaway was worth it, because it quickly brought the app a bunch of positive customer reviews, and allowed to catch some bugs we couldn’t find while testing the app.

We ordered a few paid app reviews in blogs about iPhones and apps, but that was vague. There were a couple of paid reviews which paid for itself, but generally they didn't help the app to get noticed by the big guys.

We submitted the app to most websites which publish app reviews on a free basis (based on how interesting they find the app), and it gave the first positive sales experience. A short article on appadvice.com pushed the app sales to $613 for one day. It was a relief after the first month full of silence!

Obviously we realized that no matter how good our app is, no matter how positive customer feedback is, there will be no move in sales without the buzz about the app.

The second month $9576

The situation changed when we released an update to version 1.1, in which we changed the app screenshots and introduced location-based notifications for to-dos. Apple introduced APIs for location-based notifications only in iOS 5, and apparently that helped — the Pocket Lists app was featured in the New & Noteworthy section in both Russian and (hooray!) US App Stores. The sales figures picture above shows how it affected sales: on the top day the app made $1251!

Sales shortened 2—3 times when the app went from the New & Noteworthy to the What’s Hot section.

148apps.com published a review of the Pocket Lists app, but that did not affect sales.

By the end of the second month the app went off the featured shelves of the App Store, and sales went back to “normal” $10/day level.

The third month $2565

In the beginning of the third month we published a development story of the Pocket Lists app on iphones.ru (a popular blog about iPhones; in russian), and this pushed the app to #5 in the overall Top Paid chart in Russia, which was bringing about $450/day in sales.

To make the app move further, we offered another free giveaway, and this time the app was downloaded about 35’000 times!

US and Russian App Stores

It is widely known that the US App Store is the largest. Based on the Pocket Lists experience, same positions in the US App Store generate approximately 10-15 times more sales than in the Russian App Store.

If you plan offering your app exclusively in a non-US App Store, that may be a very hard sales experience. Today (beginning of March 2012) top paid positions around #10—20 in the Productivity category of the Russian App Store generate about $20/day.

The price

During the first two months we were experimenting with the app price varying it from $4.99 to $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, and zero.

Since we implemented so many cool features in the app, we initially wanted the price to be $4.99. But very soon we realized that this price will not allow the app to move up in the charts and effectively compete with hundreds of other to-do & checklist apps. We decided to lower the price to $1.99 (UPD: $2.99) — in order to have freedom in reducing the price to $0.99 on special occasions and promotions.

It’s all similar to songs and movies. No matter what kind of movie you are watching and how expensive the movie was to produce, either it is a blockbuster or an art house film, the ticket price is the same. App Store’s model for apps is much the same. Really.

Things we’ve learned

  1. App Store apps are packed like sardines. Even if your app is great, handy, and powerful, don’t think that it is going to get featured automatically, fly up the charts and sustain there. Rather be prepared for a “ping pong” in the App Store top charts.
  2. Paid app reviews does not work. We are not going to waste time and money on them anymore.
  3. Focus on the US App Store. If you get featured in the US, other App Stores will likely to feature your app too.
  4. The goal to sales is a position in top charts. The goal to a higher chart position is a continuous buzz about your app.
  5. Positive app ratings do not really lift you up in the App Store’s top charts.
  6. Do not overestimate your app. Focus on volume, not the price.
  7. At the first hand, release the app for yourself and your friends. If they don’t use and don't like your app, it is hardly that everybody else will.
Pocket Lists app is the ultimate to-do & checklist app featuring comprehensive to-do management tools, collaboration options, due and location-based notifications, smart to-do input (“meeting tomorrow morning”), OCR (photo to checklist), and more.

Get your copy today: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocket-lists/id482537116?ls=1&mt=8

All screenshots were taken using appfigures.com.