Once I’d finished up the basics for TapNote 1.0, I faced the difficult task of choosing a price for it. After much deliberation, I settled on an asking price of $4.00. This price appealed to me because it was in keeping with the pricing for the better-class note-taking apps available in the app catalog, but wasn’t a .99 price point (which I hate; I think they’re dishonest, and even if they perform better—something I doubt—I’d rather provide an upfront price to people rather than trying to trick them into rounding down in their head).
Then Palm approved TapNote, I excitedly posted about it here and on Twitter, and absolutely no one bought it. A week later, my Palm stats have a number of purchases I can count on one hand, and no one has cared enough to leave a star rating, much less a review of the program.
This is, to say the least, discouraging.
Since then I’ve been vacillating between leaving the price as-is and sharply cutting it. A fellow WebOS developer on Twitter recommend cutting the base price in half and reducing it further as a promotion to drive initial sales and hopefully get on the Hot Apps list. This was tempting, since the whole reason I released version 1.0 without synch was that I wanted to get it out in the window for Hot Apps.
However, I truly believe that TapNote is worth $4.00 (or more, to be honest; $4.00 won’t buy you a decent lunch, and what I’m planning to do with TapNote 1.x is way better than a decent lunch), but what I believe and what the market is willing to pay are two different things, so if I want to sell it I’m going to need to conform to the market’s expectations.
After giving this lots of thought, waiting to see specific numbers in Palm’s download reports, and sleeping on the problem, I’ve made up my mind: I’m leaving the price alone. People can either cough up four bucks if they, like myself, aren’t happy with the existing options for note-taking, or they can settle for one of the existing solutions. I’m unlikely to sell many copies up front, and unless a high profile blogger or review site notices TapNote and gives me some favorable press there’s no way I’ll even make it into the lower tier of Hot Apps, but I’m alright with that.
First off, I don’t need the money. I created TapNote because I badly needed it, and although I’d like a little recompense for all the time and effort I’ve spent, I’ve already got a full time job that’s paying the mortgage. It makes me a little sad that other people don’t appreciate TapNote, but it won’t impact me negatively if TapNote remains in obscurity for a while (and the nonexistent support burden is definitely nice).
Secondly, the whole race to the bottom that continues to occur in app stores leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Developers complain about how they sink months into an app and then people won’t even give them the cost of a cup of coffee for it, yet they still slash prices down to nothing in an effort to sell. In the Apple app store, this is about the only option, of course, because the competition is so heavy it’s virtually impossible to get noticed. For the Palm app catalog, though, there’s relatively little competition. Just keeping an app on the “Recently Updated” pages with regular updates is enough to get a reasonable amount of exposure (based on things I’ve read in the developer forums).
So cutting the price when I don’t really need the sales feels to me like devaluing the app for no good purpose. Increasing prices for high quality apps has to start somewhere, and to be honest $4.00 is hardly a high premium. Based on my competition, a premium price would actually be up in the $7-10 range.
Additionally, I am highly skeptical that vastly reduced prices is actually profitable. Certainly it’s useful for getting an app into the public eye, but when I look at the apps in the $10,000 bracket of Hot Apps, very few of them cost less than $5 (and of those less than $5, most are at the $3-4 mark). Palm has been crowing about TweetMe’s meteoric rise up the charts, but I notice that it remains in the $1,000 bracket, while it’s higher-priced competitors are looking at a handy $10,000 bonus and a $4 notes app that was featured in the app catalog’s Feature Apps area has quietly jumped into the $10,000 bracket, as well.
All of which says to me that although cutting prices would probably get TapNote noticed, I would have to time things very carefully in order to not ultimately lose profits. Because Palm’s download reporting for paid apps is almost a week delayed (!!!) and any price change requires at least 2-3 days while they review it, it is virtually impossible for me to tweak the price lower and then raise it back up when its usefulness has run its course. If I’m going to lower it, I need to be content with it being lowered for a week at minimum and more like two weeks before I can accurately judge the effectiveness of the change.
None of which is worth it to me. I would rather continue as I have with a solid product and great updates and then see if some marketing efforts once I’ve integrated synchronization don’t give it a boost in popularity. That way, I lose nothing, ultimately will likely make more money than if I halved the price and got a $1,000 Hot Apps bonus for it, and I don’t devalue my app in a market that hasn’t yet figured out that a lowest-common-denominator price doesn’t often make for a good user experience.