Apps Gone Crazy

Prince made headlines recently by declaring that the "internet is over".

Before you panic, no, he's wrong. Quite wrong. Especially the part where he declares computers and digital gadgets to be no good because "they just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you".

Utter rubbish. I've never had a problem with my iPad besides the 000001010101010101010101011110101011111010101010WOZWOZERE10100001010101010110101

Sorry, where was I?

It was part of an interview the minuscule Minneapolis musician did with the UK's Daily Mirror to promote an album he was giving away with the newspaper and, naturally enough, generate a little controversy. He's no stranger to controversy. It was the name of his fourth album, after all. He also went on to declare that releasing albums via a newspaper made perfect sense because it eliminated online piracy.

That bit didn't work there are copies all over the net right now, probably more than there would have been had he not said that. For the record, I've sourced a completely legitimate copy of the album via a relative of mine in the UK who bought (with some embarrassment) the paper in question. It's not very good. The album, that is. I already had a low opinion of the Mirror.

Anyway, before you worry — that you've somehow slipped from MacTheMag into PrinceTheMag — there is an interesting tale to tell here for App developers.

Prince's problem — well, one of them, anyway — is that it's increasingly hard to sell music in a crowded marketplace, especially if you don't like the established labels that much. Sales are down for everyone, even with the remarkable success of iTunes. There's a generation out there who happily just download every skerrick of music they can find without ever expecting to pay for it. It's a bit tough to keep yourself in shiny white doves and purple motorbikes in that kind of environment.

Aside from generating controversy, which helps sell newspapers and promote the deal, there's some sensible business here for Prince. He got paid upfront by the paper (and apparently by several other European publications) for delivering the music to them. For all I know, they may have even paid for pressing the CDs and sleeves to put them in. He writes, gets paid for the music and in one sense can happily ignore the piracy problem because he's already got the money. Depending on the nature of the deal, quite possibly more money than either a record company or ongoing sales might have netted him in this day and age.

So then, a market where there's a flood of content, much of it acquired for free, in which it's hard to compete or even stand out. That's the music market today. Does it remind you of anything else?

It reminds me of the App market. For every Angry Birds there's countless other games. For every Hipstamatic, countless other photography apps. And so on, and so forth. The established method for getting noticed tends to be radical price drops in order to shoot up the App charts. That might net you some notice, but not a significant chunk of cash, and you're gambling that word of mouth and App chart placement will reap some kind of reward down the track. Unless, that is, everyone's moved on to the next free App of the day. Otherwise, you're just blithely hoping somebody at Apple will notice your app and decide to feature it on the iTunes front page.

This is where I reckon a little clever marketing might just make a world of difference. There's established precedent in the Australian marketplace for iTunes giveaways, for a start. The Herald/Age newspapers gave away iTunes music and video content over Christmas last year, a deal that undoubtedly involved Apple and the papers playing nicely together along with the content providers. Clearly, the infrastructure exists, whether it's a matter of a website to generate the codes, or a one-day-only code.

The trick is a marketing one convincing an established outlet (whether it's a newspaper, magazine, coffee chain or petrol station doesn't matter, as long as it's mass market enough) that it's worth paying you upfront for the App in question. Sure, you'd perhaps lose out on a percentage of sales to people who might have otherwise handed over the cash, but you get instant prominence (and potentially the same shooting up the App store rankings boost you'd get out of a "free" app switch) and a payout upfront. That to me seems better than the financial Russian Roulette than current App development seems to be.

Or perhaps, as Prince would have put it once upon a time, I've gone crazy. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to look for the purple banana before they put me in the truck.

What do you think? Do App developers need to innovate in their marketing and sales approaches in order to make actual money?

Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!