There's been a lot of talk lately about how it's harder for folks to go and stay indie, or even make any money on the app store anymore (see Brent's post, Jared Sinclair's, Luc's post, various folks leaving indie life for , etc - I know you've seen them).
I'm in my tenth year as a full time indie dev (so I can claim to have a bit of perspective). And I think that yes, it is much harder these days to go indie.
I think it comes down to a handful of reasons, but the major one is that we have more potential customers than ever, but we also have more developers than ever.
This creates an environment where the majority of customers are using price as a filter for which apps to choose from. This in turn fuels a race to the bottom, and then it never comes up from there.
It worked for a time. If you can quadruple the number of purchases by halving your price- well, that's obviously more money. But when you start out at $.99, where are you left to go? Customers get used to it, and then expect it. They can point to developers who have gone this route and are rolling in the dough. It's an easy sell. But that's a lottery game and those huge hits are generally an anomaly.
Sales are now fueled by one day release surges, and then it tapers off into nothing.
What can be done to fix this?
I'm really not sure. But I can tell you what I've been doing, and what I will continue doing going forward.
My basic strategy is to make a useful quality product, and sell it at a fair and sustainable price. If your app is quality, it will find customers. And then those customers will tell their friends, and the news sites will notice it. And since you're charging a fair price a virtuous circle will form.
If you are just starting out, this might take years (maybe even exactly 1,068 days). It's a long road of hard work, pain, joy, and just showing up every day. Eventually you will get lucky and gain some traction- but it's not luck alone that is the key to success. You need to recognize opportunities as they come along and grab them. And just as equally important- you need to recognize time sinks and stupid ideas that come along as well. There will be more of the latter.
Tyler Hall has a wonderful post today: A Candid Look at the Financial Side of Building Mac Apps on Your Own:
"Well, for starters, it takes a lot of patience. My sales didn’t appear overnight. It took five years for me to gain semi-stable financial independence. That’s something that I worry most iOS developers with indie dreams don’t appreciate. I’m not singling out Jared, but I think the “gold rush” mentality of the App Store leads many people to expect either instant success or epic failure. They lose sight that there might be a middle ground where you can grow your business slowly over time into something substantial."
I've always tried to set my expectations appropriately. I've looked towards those who came before me in indie-land and attempted to learn from them. I'm happy with Flying Meat being a mom and pop indie shop, and I want to keep it small. I try to make my customers happy within reasonable bounds, and they in turn support my for efforts. It takes time, patience, and lots of hard work.
This has worked so far, but I always have a plan B and C the back of my head if my ideas don't pan out. Expect failure, but don't let it get you down. Learn from it, and most importantly- enjoy it. Your company might grow and gain more customers, but it never gets easier. But you do tend to get better as time goes on.