Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Long, Skinny Tail

A developer over at Larva Labs has written about the lack of profits from the Android Market, despite having to well-rated, high-ranking games.

Their app RetroDefense peaked at #1 (though I'm not sure whether this is within Games overall or their particular subcategory of games) and has a 5-star rating. Their game Battle for Mars is #5 with a 4.5-star rating. And they report an average daily income of $62.39 for the month of August.

This seems bad, but is it? There are no Cinderella stories for Android yet, like those of devs earning hundreds of thousands of dollars off a single app in the iPhone App Store.

There's no doubt that the very top echelon of games in the iPhone App Store are big cash cows. But it also seems clear that the earning of apps follows a function where very few apps make a ton of money while most apps make very little. Where is that cutoff? How steeply does it drop?

Here's another case to consider, from an iPhone app developer with 4 apps in the top 100 in each of their respective categories, with the highest-ranked app bringing in $20/day. He argues that his case demonstrates the long, skinny tail of apps that generate a small amount of revenue, while a very small number who sit in the top 10 or so generate enormous amounts of money.

I think the shape of the curve is probably very similar for the Android market, although I think because the number of users is much smaller relative to the iPhone app market, the whole curve is shifted down. I think the earnings for the top apps will continue to rise as new Android phones come out, and I think before long we'll have our own iShoot and Trism stories. A few will make it rich. Most won't. And there will be a small middle-class that earns moderate returns.

I would like to have a hit, especially when the market starts to peak. Let's hope it hasn't already.

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