How I have made $200k in the iOS education market
I would like to time this article to the simultaneous release of the second version of my successful and innovative application Word Wizard, and the fact that I have made $200k on the App Store. Next, I have decided to share figures about the education market on the App Store, and by the way to talk a little about my story and experience being the indie developers. I hope it can help some indie developers to make some decisions, as I did more than one year ago after reading some posts. It will also help to understand the size of the education market on iOS.
Actually, I will start with the sales and ranking figures, and then I tell more about my personal experience. I note that all figures are coming from AppFigures.
I released my first educational app for iPad and iPhone more than one year ago and here is the chart of sales since Montessori Crosswords was released in August 2010. (See figures above).
$200k is not bad considering I have made $90k since August 2011 due to the success of Word Wizard, my second app, in English and French (you can see that the steep of the slope is much better once the app has been released).
So now let us see some details about 4 apps, the most important ones that allowed me to earn this money. I must say that all my apps are universal - iPhone & iPad.
Price is $ 2.99, released in August 2010, sales made $ 113 000. Here is a link to ITunes
Montessori Crosswords is the first serious app I have designed. It was iPad only until end of September 2010. The huge peak (beginning of Q4, 2010) is when the New York Times mentioned it. Later on, I released a very nice update based on users’ feedback, but it was on Christmas that everything began to work really well. During Q2 of 2011, sales were down because I was working hard on Word Wizard and I did not have time to promote and update it but hopefully Children's Technology Review awarded the Montessori Crosswords app and it helped a lot. However, I felt that many improvements could be made, and eventually I took 3-4 weeks to make another very nice update which was acclaimed by users and teachers, and sales went up immediately (end of Q2, 2011). Then the popularity of Word Wizard helped to push sales of Montessori Crosswords. I will release an update soon with new features hoping that it will boost the sales.
French Words for Kids
This is the French version of Montessori Crosswords.
Price is $ 3.99, released in November 2010, sales made $ 26 000. Here is a link to ITunes
I am French, so I logically decided to release a French version of Montessori Crosswords. Even if I thought the French market was small, I wanted to do it for my kids and friends, but eventually it was a good business decision too. Since there is much less quality educational apps in France, the app was mentioned by major blogs in France. France App Store did add French Words for Kids to its “Apps for kids” section, and it was almost every time in the top 10 educational apps on iPad in France. I didn't need to promote it a lot (I did it a little bit in January 2011) and create nice updates to stay in the top 10, due to the lack of competition. There was a nice boost recently due to the huge success of French Word Wizard in France.
Price is $ 2.99, released in July 2011, sales made $ 34 000. Here is a link to ITunes
I worked hard on Word Wizard for 5-6 months, lots of design, testing, graphics to find the right balance, and I was really excited by the innovation inside this app, and feedback from beta testers. When Word Wizard launched, it did get noticed by teachers, educators and people involved in chidren’s technology but it lacked a very good promotion to be visible. Then everything gone wild, Children's Technology Review awarded the Word Wizard app, there was an article in The New York Times online and then in the paper edition (this the huge peak), in Wired Geek Dad blog, Apple mentioned it on its Facebook page and selected it as “New and Noteworthy” for iPhone and iPad in the US and most of English speaking countries. Then after one month sales went down surely because I did not promote it afterwards - this is a good lesson, even with a lot of good press you need to continue to promote your app. Now I’ve just released V2.0 of Word Wizard adding all users’ requests - more than 20 options and features, things are getting better and I am publishing a costly press release on PRWeb.
French Word Wizard
This is the French version of the Word Wizard.
Price is $ 3.99, released in September 2011, sales made $ 11 000. Here is a link to ITunes
This one was a big surprise. In one day, the app was in the top 10 of France App Store (overall ranking) and stayed there for 2 weeks. Each peak is due to a post on major French iOs blogs. French Word Wizard was then selected by Apple as “New and Noteworthy” but surprisingly the impact was really lower than blog posts.
I have released a small app “Draw With Stars” in March 2010 to understand how the App Store was working and to learn how to program for the iPad and the iPhone. Apparently, people love the app and it generates an average income is $10 a day, so $6,000 since it has been published.
I have also published Montessori Crosswords on the Mac App Store but it does not sell very well, it was about $6,000 in 9 months for the English version and $1,600 for the French version. I also did an experiment with the French Montessori Crosswords and offered a cheaper iPhone only version but it does not work as well as on the iPad, it was about $2,800 for a price of $1.99.
I have also released a free app, Hearts Extravaganza, it is an app to draw with hearts especially made for my daughters.
Ranking vs Sales
It would be interesting is to see these sales figures in relation with the rank on the App Store. This gives an idea of the size of the educational market (and even some hints on the size of overall market), and you will see that my apps are almost never in the top 10 educational apps (despite their quality). All my apps are universal (iPad&iPhone) and App Store does not tell how many apps have been sold on each type of device (iPad&iPhone), so it’s not really possible to know how many sales are made on iPad and how many are made on iPhone. However, ranks are available by device so you can get an idea. The general opinion is that the education market is bigger on iPad even if there is a lot more of iPhone, but if you are in the top 10 education on iPhone it seems that it is better than if you are in the top 10 education on iPad because it seems that sales are more evenly distributed on iPad than on iPhone. Anyway, one should do a better analysis to be sure of that.
Annotation: My goal is not to make a detailed analysis of the education market. It is only to offer you some data to understand it and view that it is relatively big (at least for the indie developers). I think someone will be able to see and get more information from the figures and these graphs, please do so.
The figures below are for the US market (of course the biggest USA App Store), that is why sales are lower than the App Store displayed above. It is also a way to compare the US App Store market to the Worldwide App Store market.
It is an interesting figure because Word Wizard was very successful in August 2011. The day The New York Times wrote an article (in the paper edition) about it, it was #2 in iPad Education, #5 in iPhone Education, #30 in iPad overall, and only #326 on iPhone overall!
Now let us see the Grossing Ranks for the same period, which is important to understand the size of the market (sorry, there are no sales on this graph, because I did not succeed to make it with AppFigures, which is sometimes changing its mind).
It is interesting that after the publication in The New York Times my application reached #104 position in the overall ranking iPad income (Overall Grossing), but I made only $ 2000 per day, so how can you explain it, when you are ranked in the top 10 iPad by downloads (in the category of "Education")? There are some hints below because the French version was in the top 10 (Overall in France App Store), but I don’t know if this can be extrapolated in relation to the data from the USA App Store.
Here is the figures for Montessori Crosswords. It is interesting to see the difference in sales for the same rank in 2010 and 2011.
The French market
Of course the French market is smaller, but it is also a good market if you are well ranked - however according to my computation the market is 7 to 10 times smaller (in education).
So this one is interesting, because the apps have been ranked #5 iPad overall, and these days the income was between $900 and $1,000 (by the way the grossing rank was around #10 overall these days). When you compare it to the day I was #30 overall on iPad in the USA, and I made $2,000 per day, you can imagine why I targeted the US market first.
My journey as an iOS independent developer
I think that enough figures and numbers, now I just want to talk about my experience. As I have said, I have read a lot of posts about this when I was starting and it was interesting, so I hope it can help somebody!
I decided to develop educational apps for iPad and iPhone some weeks after the iPad was announced. My first try to build a kind of startup with a friend was not successful, I was looking for a new project, and after some friends told me that I was not the best candidate to join their own startup (Thanks Matthias to have understood that it was not exactly what I was looking for! ), I remember that I really wanted to develop something for the iPad. After reading some blog posts and understanding that there was already some opportunities in the education market on iPhone, I finally found the perfect match: develop educational apps for my kids on iPad ! We are a homeschooling family and so we (especially my wife) did have some experience with the education of kids. In addition, it was very interesting for me to be able to work a little bit with my wife and my kids (my kids are testing all the apps!). In others words, I just followed the advice given all over the Web: find a good problem that you have (and of course enough other people have) and develop a solution. The iPad seemed perfect for my kids, who already enjoyed playing on the iPhone, and I am perfectly sure that kids learn better when they play.
I started with a small app (did it in 2/3 weeks) to understand how the App Store worked and after some brainstorming we decided to create Montessori Crosswords because one of my kids was doing this Montessori activity and it seemed perfect to put it on the iPad. Actually, at the beginning we wanted to do something bigger, Montessori Crosswords only being a part of it. However, I soon realized that I had - as often - underestimated the resources needed, so I decided to release Montessori Crosswords as a standalone app. After releasing it, I realized that I had a lot of promotions and support to do, and eventually the big app was never developed.
Once the iPad version was released, the first thing was to make the app universal which pushed sales a little bit but not so much (it is a little expensive for an iPhone app). Then I began to try to understand better how I could promote the app, found some good advices in MomsWithApps forums, and was featured in an AppFriday event by MomsWithApps (which, luckily, resulted to a mention in the NYT) . I gathered all the feedback I could and released a really nice update. I then began to promote it everywhere (I remember writing this article in PRWeb for one week, it was not an easy job for me - I'm French - and eventually I do not know if it was useful or not). I wanted to release a French version quickly but due to the use of cursive letters, accented letters and recording my wife voice it took me a lot of time (I thought I was crazy to do this and not to concentrate on the US market!).
Word Wizard, the second application
In January 2011, I began to try new ideas for a new spelling app. I wanted to do something new that would be more like a game and where people could enter their own words. I did 2 or 3 prototype but it was not fantastic. Then I began to look for voice synthesis library so that people may not need to record their own voice to enter new words and rapidly began to toy with the idea of a talking movable alphabet, and soon realized that it was really really nice ! Kids and adults were having fun with the prototype and what I originally saw as a small project began a 6 month project because I wanted to be perfect from a UX point of view, and also because market analysis told me that I needed to add a spelling quiz section in addition to the talking movable alphabet. The major issue was the speech synthesis library because they took 20% to 30% of your sales (you can't buy the library) but the project was so exciting that I took the risk.
I was lucky enough to get some income from Montessori Crosswords, which gave me the time to start developping Word Wizard. However, the sales were not so good, and I was starting to get some very promising feedback about Word Wizard. So in May I took 3-4 weeks to release another update of Montessori Crosswords, which was a good investment. Then end of July, the English version of Word Wizard was released, then the French version in September. I now plan to update Montessori Crosswords and release German and Spanish versions of Word Wizard.
What do I do every day?
I’ve tried to sum up what I do to give you an idea of my choices as an indie dev and what was difficult for me. The percentage is approximated and of course it could be very different for other developers. Of course, some days I do only development and others days only artworks or promotions.
Development (20-25%): For me it was really not an issue. I have been a developer for 25 years (I started on Apple IIe when I was 15), did long studies (PhD) in computer science, and worked as developer/UX Designer in a startup for 6 years. I was happy to learn a new language and a new platform, and I love development. Compared to my previous jobs, it was a really easy and gratifying job.
Product Definition & User Experience Design (15-20%): As for product definition, it was easy because I’m a father, so I have an understanding of what parents wants for their kids (but of course you need to listen to your users to enhance the app afterwards). As of User Experience (UX) I worked a lot on UX previously so I knew how to do it and the pitfalls, and it was a very interesting experience to design apps for kids on touch devices (I was mostly doing enterprise software or Web sites before). UX seems easy to do but eventually it is tricky, and if you don’t have experience in UX, I would advise you to buy some books to understand the basics (personas, user’s goals, tasks, tests). Without a good UX, it will be difficult to have good feedback and sell a lot of units.
Artworks (20%): this one was trickier for me because I’m not a designer. I love doing this but I need to work very hard to get some nice results. I’ve always played with Photoshop and Illustrator, and I was/am happy to do it even if I think it would be better to hire a real designer to do it (because it would take him less time to do it). So if you don’t like it or know nothing about it, you should think about hiring or doing a partnership with a designer (you can also buy some artwork on the Web but depending on your needs it may be impossible). Everybody knows that artworks are really important to sell apps, and you need this skill also for your Website, screenshots, app icon, ads, ...
Promotion and marketing (15-20%): As you may imagine, it is also crucial. If you have a software engineer background like me, you must focus on this point (once you’ve got a nice app). Sometimes I only did promotions and support for one month. Promotions include Press Release (PRMac, PRWeb if you’ve got something big), Web Site, contacting reviewers, Facebook, Twitter, ads, participate in forum but also understand how to do it. I knew that marketing was very important but I have no experience at all. Actually, marketing is not so difficult to do, it is just very time consuming, and when you’re more on the creative side than on the marketing side, it’s sometimes hard to push you to do your marketing. You must try to find some promotions techniques that you love to do (this post is also a kind of promotion). As for everything, you will improve yourself and it will take less time in the end, you will know who to contact, where to find information,...
Keep up and participate (?%): I was looking for advice from others devs and also a kind of community of educational developers. I find a fantastic one in 2010: MomsWithApps Forum (Hello and Thanks Lorraine!). It is a very useful place where you can discuss everything and they also can make you some promotions on their Facebook Page and Website. I’ve met nice people (Hello Evan from Apps Kids Love) that helped me to be better in the fields where I needed some education. I also try to help people when I can. I tried to participate to others forums but none is as good as this one.
Support (5%): When you begin to sell a lot of units, you have to do some support, and it’s great to do the support for the product you have done. Actually, this is the best way to know how to enhance your product. Of course a lot of people would send you an email because the sound is not working and you have to help troubleshooting the issue, but some will send you amazing suggestions. To get feedback, you must have a button in your app that allows users to contact you easily. It's also a good way to ask people to add a review if they like your app.
Others (the rest): there are some other tasks, like analyzing the App Store to know what people love (your reviews but also the reviews of others apps), playing guitar when you do have enough energy to work, reading news and blogs , and a lot of other minor stuff . Of course, some holidays (but not much this year I would say 2 weeks but I'm always doing the support and participating in forums). By the way, I think I work 45 hours a week and never work on week-ends (this is family time!). I try to always be productive and when I can't, I stop working.
I hope the article will be helpful for you!
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