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Oct 04

Taking our first step away from Mac App Store to Direct Sales

I’ll must admit I love the idea of the mac app store, and the ios store. They take all the work off my plate and take care of the payments, the distribution, and rights control. However what I am now completely jaded by is the inexcusable turn around times. Our last update which we apparently need to fix, took 28 days to be reviewed, only to be rejected due to an incompatibility with an OS that shipped after we submitted the app!

The first time we sent our apps to apple for the Mac we were looking at 7-10 days, not bad. But now it’s taking near a month or more to get any feedback, especially to find out that your small change was rejected. The hard thing is, Im trying to address user issues in a timely manner. I always respond to user requests ASAP when they contact me, but to then tell the user ‘I fixed it, now wait a month or more for Apple to approve it’ just sucks to be honest. It makes us (small developers) look incompetent. The other issue is that a month has passed, and I have been working on 6 other apps since then, I really am not in the mindset to go in and fix another issue in that app. So now it’ll take me a lot of time to find the room to fit it in my schedule, plus I then have to retest is, et al, then wait another month to hear back from Apple.

All in all, it’s not a good situation. I lose out on a month+ of potential sales, and my customers more importantly are getting less updates in a very infrequent manner. There are good things to the App Store, they make finding apps easy, and installing / upgrading is good. I don’t really mind the cut they take if the service was up to par. But I don’t see the justification of 30% of my revenue when I can’t get a timely amount of customer service (which I pay for in a yearly subscription to Apple plus the 30% cut of all my sales). This isn’t a new rant by developers, but it is for me. I’ve long had an affection for Apple’s system, mainly because I helped watch it grow and helped make it grow when I worked there for 5 years. But now, I’m a bit jaded and disappointed. My customers are the only thing keeping my small shop going, and if I can address their issues in a timely fashion, due to an overly lengthy review process by a 3rd party then I think it’s best I find an alternative.

So I now to my own dismay have to create a sales portal, re do all my software validation, and include a way of doing key gen to prevent piracy. This is way more work than I want to do, which is probably what Apple accounts for. But I’m in a corner as I have 2 new apps I want to release and 3 updates to existing apps. I can’t lose 6 months total over those apps waiting for Apple to get review (and getting paid for it from their royalty cut). So, I will do these things, I will create a way to sell my apps directly to consumers, I will implement authentication, I will create an online store, I will do all these things I was so happy to hand over to Apple years ago. It’s disappointing but it’s just a reality. I’ll be working on it as soon as possible, I already signed up with a very well reviewed / popular e-commerce company to handle the sales. They’re called FastSpring, they allow me to add apps to my site and sell directly.

I didn’t want to fragment out into another store such as bodega, and I know my apps would never get approved by Steam as they’re not AAA titles. Also I’m sick of fragmentation, I hate it on Android, and I want to avoid it as much as possible. So I’ll provide my apps direct for sale from our website.

What does this mean for existing mac store users? Well I will always keep my mac store apps up and alive. Apple only lets me submit 1 build at a time, so if we are 3 out of 4 weeks Waiting for Review and I have a new version to send them, I have 2 choices, either remove the existing one, and submit the new one and start the 4 week countdown all over, or wait 1 week if the app gets approved then upload the next version. It’s painful, but that’s what we’ll have to deal with.

The website versions will be able to be updated faster, and direct to the users. They will not be able to be upgraded via the Mac app store, but people who buy from the Mac app store will get updates, they will just take longer unfortunately due to the process above. For my customers, which will I recommend going forward? Ideally purchasing directly from us would be better, because I can address your issues directly. If you have the Mac App store version, I can’t give you the non-app store version if I make a fix, you’ll have to wait for the Mac store version to be updated. However if you (customer) feel more comfortable with Apple handling the transactions than our provider (fastspring) then by all means use them, just know that updates will be slower. On the plus side it looks like I keep a small amount more if you buy direct, something like 10% goes to the provider, and 90% to taxes and myself.

As I find the time I’ll be implementing this new model in our apps and putting them up for sale on the web as we get there. But it’ll take a whole lot of software writing to get there to implement all this. And I am currently writing 12 hours of code a day for a client, so I’m pretty flat out at the moment… but I’m sure it’ll take me much less time than Apple to approve our next submission…