You can't make a living selling Android Apps
I’m sure that Thomas Kriebernegg, the CEO of App Radar will be happy to persuade you that you can make a living by selling Android Apps. He needs to - his way of making a living is to sell services to Android devs so he better make sure there are lots of Android devs; discouraging devs from becoming Android devs would be a financial suicide. But why not trying out your luck? After all, Flappy Birds was making $50,000 a day in ads; Clash of Clans makes millions of dollars. Let me tell you a fucking secret: you are not going to be the author of Flappy Birds and Clash of Clans, and let me tell you why.
First, creating Flappy Birds requires no technical skills; my grandmother could do that (if she knew what a smartphone is, and if she would be able to copy-paste from StackOverflow). It’s the idea that counts; and there are but a few good ideas. Maybe a hundred ideas per year? How many of Android developers (or developer wannabies) there are, millions? You will have better odds by betting in a lottery. Far easier than fighting with retarded Android SDK, too. If you have a brilliant idea, someone else already had it and there’s already an app for that. The probability of you being the first one is very low. I’d say that for every Flappy Birds dev there are 10,000 devs that earn a measly $10 per day tops. Oops.
Second, you are not an asshole that would cherish the thought of having a sustainable business model based on selling virtual axes $5 apiece to addicted kids, making them shell $500 a month, destroying their family income. A.K.A. Free to play.
Let’s assume that you want to help people. You can try to create a decent helpful app and sell it for, say, $2. It will not make you rich but you hope it make you some decent money, right? Now that may be true for Apple since those users are willing to shell big buck for Steve Jobs’s fart; but it’s certainly not true for Android since that’s the other extreme - shitload of niggards who have just spent a whopping $100 for a fucking phone so everything else on that phone is better free right?
Now that’s just mean. There are lots of very nice users out there and I have met lots of them. They are however easily overshadowed by that 1% of guys who think that by spending $2 for your app gives them right to command you and swarm you with feature requests, expecting that you will fix them for free of course since I’ve already paid for the app and it’s not doing what I want. I’ve seen a French guy, complaining how a highly specialized catalogue worth thousands of hours of work costs a whopping $20. That’s like a price of a fucking bagel and a fucking latte right below the fucking Eiffel tower, oh so very expensive Mon dieu!
Now let’s amuse ourselves by pretending that you will manage to get five hundred of new (that’s not a recurring payment, that’s one-off payment) paying users per per month (you won’t). That’s $1000 a month, right (it’s not but for the sake of good laugh let’s pretend it is)? Wrong. Google will take 30% off that, and your country/EU/whatever will take additional 20% VAT off that, thank you very much. You will receive ~$550 a month tops. And then the tax office steps into the game; if you intend to play a honest citizen then you need to say goodbye to another $200 for taxes, unemployment insurances, health insurances and pension funds. You will be left with $350 which you can wipe your ass with. If you are a student in Somalia that may be enough; if you have a mortgage and two screaming kids, believe me $350 is laughable.
You will never have a stream of thousands new paying users, hundreds tops. By trying to sell apps on Android, you will most probably end up being underpaid. But! You will also meet lots of really nice people which will let you know how you actually helped them with that little app of yours. That feeling is highly rewarding on its own. You will learn how to talk to customers (because those guys are actually your customers) and you will try to make them pay more and fail (because nobody wants to pay for software). You will learn a lot, and after you do, you will have to abandon that app of yours which you’ve nursed like your own child, and move someplace else where you can put your experience to use and earn a decent money instead of peanuts from Google Play.
Possible options to earn some money
- You can charge for your app upfront but nobody will buy it since it’s new, untested and cannot be evaluated upfront.
- You can add in-app payments but nobody will purchase those unless they’re forced to
- The income from in-app payments will be laughable yet there will be fucking retards who will call you greedy bastard.
You can beg for money on Patreon but that’s a) undignified b) ineffective since nobody’ll send you money just like that unless they must, or it appeals to them. You will only receive money here from people whose lives you really made simpler because of the app, and they are just so nice to help you.
After a year of pledging your Patreon support will be somewhere around $100, and it will stay there. And stopping the development of your app (because it doesn’t pay off) just feels that you’ve betrayed those nice chaps supporting you on Patreon.
You can try to charge for implementing feature requests (bountysource.com), but to this day I haven’t actually seen anybody paying for a feature request. People will just open those requests and then they will just hope you will get bored/excited enough to fix that bug for free. Even if they are willing to pay, they will pay a measly $20 for something that takes 4 hours to fix, test and release and the real cost is somewhere around $400.
Trying to get rich by selling useful apps on Android won’t work and you will be abused by people who believe they have the right to make you work for free, so that they can have a $40 dinner. You will do that in your free time since you will have to have a fucking job to actually earn some money, unless you are unemployed or a student. You will have zero free time.
You will also meet countless of really nice people which you will make genuinely happy (if your app is useful). That is actually a reward on its own, and a really good feeling. But it will not outweight the total loss of free time for a couple of bucks.
The best way to play this game is to not to play it. If you have a great idea, create a game and flood all social networks with it, then sell virtual crap and/or ads. That’s about the only way to get rich on Google Play.
How to make a money then?
Place the centre of your business elsewhere:
- Dropbox is making profit by selling space on their cloud drive; the Android app is free to enable you to reach that space. That’s why they offer the Dropbox API for free - it’s enabling devs to create Dropbox-based apps which will then lure in more customers.
- Uber is making profit by taking 10% off the charge; the app is just an enabler to have more customers.
- Facebook is making profit … well I have no idea how, but it’s certainly not by selling the Facebook app.
- Banks - they’ll charge you $7 monthly and will offer you a banking app for free.
Make a profit elsewhere, then create a free Android app as an enablement, to lure customers towards your services.
The alternative is to feed off your fellow Android developers.
You are the product
When you develop for Android, you are the product.
Google tries to lure in as much Android developers as possible, since they will populate Google Play store with apps (of dubious quality). However, the quality doesn’t matter - all that matters is the count. Google can now say “Look how many apps we have! There’s an app for everything”. Having shitload of apps on Google Play is critical - if you don’t have them, your phones are worthless, as Microsoft learned the hard way.
Then there are tools that can be sold to Android developers. Crashlytics (which supplement useless error reporting in Google Play), Firebase, …
Then there are competing app stores which feed by charging 30% off of the app’s price. More apps mean more sales and that means more money.
Then there are nice guys at App Radar which will help you make your app more visible. The dev - you - are their customer; more customers means more money.
That’s why nobody will tell you upfront how badly the Android API sucks, or how bad the fragmentation is, or that you won’t make a living. That would repel potential Android devs, and that would mean less apps on Google Play, less customers for Firebase etc. Instead they will talk about fucking Flappy Bird and how that particular lottery ticket made the author rich.
You will not create another Flappy Bird. You will fall into the other category.
The Google Play content
Taking the above into account, Google Play apps generally fall into the following categories:
- Free apps to lure the user into the center of the business which lies elsewhere
- Free apps designed by students which learn on how to create Android apps, and how to market them. These apps have often dubious quality and are abandoned by their creators at some point.
- Games which draw the money by using the abominable practice similar to gambling
- Useful apps which are either:
- abandoned, left to rot on the Play store,
- downloaded in such a numbers that it is profitable to develop further (rare),
- made in spare time by an enthusiast which will abandon the app eventually since it does’t pay off; rare and getting extinct.
That means that Google Play is full of games and rotten crap, with rare brilliant apps getting rarer. And that is the direct consequence of Android users not willing to pay for apps.
If you want to make a money, go with 1) or 3). If you want to learn, go with 2) . You may try to go with 4) on Google Play but the probability of you making sustainable business on that is somewhere around 0,01%. You may try to go with 4) on Apple App Store which yields much higher probability of actually creating a sustainable business.