App Santa is a yearly sale aimed at helping indie developers with the increasingly difficult economics of the App Store. Last year it ran from December 19th through to the 26th and featured 24 high-quality apps for Mac and iOS.
App Santa is not a bundle deal and it doesn’t take any revenue away from developers. It works by hand-picking indie apps and negotiating a discount for an agreed sale period. App Santa then generates revenue by driving traffic to the website and applying an affiliate token to all outbound app links — this means the revenue is taken out of Apple’s 30%, not developer’s.
iTunes Music, Movies, TV, Mac Apps, Mac In-Apps, iBooks, and paid apps earn a 7% commission rate while iOS In-Apps purchases earn a 2.5% commission rate.
Setting up App Santa is a lot of work. Co-ordinating and getting 20+ developers on board is enough by itself, never mind designing promotional emails, building a site, writing copy, scheduling tweets, and contacting the press. All-in-all, it’s a rather time-consuming side-project.
I’m not going to cover everything in this article, but I’ll touch on the marketing plan as well as show the revenue and traffic the campaign generated. Hopefully, the details shared here will be helpful next time you’re thinking about putting your app on sale.
I had a fairly standard marketing plan, launch a teaser site along with a sign-up form and try and drive as much traffic to the website as possible. This has pretty much been the same plan for the last few years. App Santa now has around 10,000 subscribers, and almost 3,000 Twitter followers. While they are not huge numbers, it’s better than nothing. Here’s the email campaign we sent out on launch day:
I also emailed the press to keep them in the loop about when we’re launching and posted regular tweets making sure our followers knew when it’s happening. The only downside to a launch like this is that we couldn’t pre-announce what apps would be in App Santa as we didn’t want to adversity effect sales of the apps involved.
I emailed the press again the day before launch with a list of the apps involved. Thankfully, App Santa got picked up by a lot of Mac/iOS press sites. Annoyingly, but not surprisingly, a lot of the bigger sites used their own affiliate code meaning we lost out on revenue. At least all the apps involved still received the extra sales.
After App Santa was over I reached out to all of the developers involved with some questions about how it went for them. Not all developers responded or wanted to share numbers, but a fair few did.
I asked everyone if they would take part in App Santa again, the answer was an overwhelmingly positive “Yes”. This was a relief because I had no idea how everyone’s app had done during that period.
Next up, I asked how much extra revenue each app had made, the answer here varied more than I expected. There was a mix of apps and games in App Santa along with many different price points. The price ranged from $0.99 up to $29.99.
Here’s how much extra revenue some of the developers earned during App Santa, considering they were all promoted pretty much equally, the amounts vary wildly.
- 1.5x increase
- Made 67% more revenue during the week of App Santa than the week prior, and 38% more than the same period in 2016.
- Average daily revenue jumped from $441 (CAD) to $1483 (CAD) per day!
A couple of developers revenue stayed around the same, and this is hard to pin down exactly why. It may be because the app had a low price and was discounted too much, or it may be to do with this. This stuff is a pretty hard to get just right, it’s only by doing regular sales for your own apps that you can work out what the sweet spot is. From my experience, Apps that have a higher price and are discounted between 30 to 50% tend to do pretty well.
Thankfully all apps involved sold more units than they usually would have for that period, this is (hopefully) good for chart position and should help going forward.
So how did App Santa do on the revenue front? While the site got a good amount of traffic, App Santa failed to make as much as I had hoped with affiliate revenue. It’s not terrible by any means, I’m just not sure it covers the amount of work it took to put together (in fact, I know it doesn’t). However, it’s important to remember in business, not everything is about the money.
For the month of December, our Affiliate account made $1.7k (USD), the majority of this came from App Santa as you can see in the graph below.
We had promised App Camp for Girls 25% of the revenue and to be honest I felt a little bad that it wasn’t as much as I had hoped for so I decided to increase it from 25% to 50%. Leaving us a profit of $850 (USD). Maybe not the wisest business decision on my part, but hey, App Camp for Girls is a great charity!
See you in December?
Each year App Santa has improved, and each time it’s been a big learning experience. App Santa still isn’t perfect, and there’s a lot I’d like to do differently but it’s hard to justify the time and energy required when it’s a side-project.
Next time, I’m going to work on setting App Santa up so it can be a little more automated. Manually entering and updating data is very labour intensive. The biggest problem was developers emailing over copy and price changes while we were still building the site, this gets very messy, very quickly.
I also know some developers were bummed out they weren’t chosen to be part of App Santa, but it’s hard to get the balance just right between high profile apps, and hidden gems. If I included too many apps, then those included won’t get enough sales as the traffic and clicks will be shared between them all. I think this was actually part of the problem this year — Next year I plan to reduce the amount of apps down from 24 to around 18 or less.
If you have any questions about App Santa please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.