Why the Amazon Appstore can be great for users and bad for developers

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: August 2, 2011

Oh, Amazon Appstore … where do I begin?

Amazon entered the Android app selling business back in late March of this year. Aside from not having nearly as many applications as Google's store, offering a Free App of the Day and requiring the ability to install from third-party sources, there were few differences in the Amazon Appstore and the native Android Market. Just don't try to install applications purchased from Amazon without the Appstore installed – such apps will not work.

The design and layout of Amazon's Appstore is clean-cut and for consumers, it's just another place to buy applications. But let's be honest here, the Appstore has quickly become the place where everyone simply gets their free apps and leaves all of their actual purchases to Android Market. Knowing there will be a new free application every day has actually made me hold off on purchases in hopes of it making its way to the Appstore front page. (I'm bad, I know.) But after today, that will likely change.

The way Amazon has portrayed their Free App of the Day deal is that they will run a hand selected application on the front of their Appstore and the developer would still make at least a little money (20 percent). If that is how it actually worked, it wouldn't be a bad deal at all. It would be a great way for them both to grow their names and make a little money, right? Wrong. Just ask Shifty Jelly, developers of the Android podcast application, Pocket Casts.

Earlier today on their company's blog, Shifty wrote of their “experiment” with the Amazon Appstore. First, they were approached by Amazon via email asking if they were interested in taking part in their Free App of the Day promotion, stating that the “current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed.” For exchange of giving their application away for free, they get prime placement (Free App of the Day for one day and main page placement for the following 14 days) in the Appstore. The deal is rather one-sided, but seeing as Shifty Jelly is in this business as an experiment in the first place, they decided to go with it after a lengthy debate and exchanging some emails with Amazon for clarification.

As indicated by the picture above, Pocket Casts was selling a handful of times per day, before the Free App of the Day promotion was ran. The day of the promotion hit and, unsurprisingly, there was an enormous surge in sales – 101,491 to be exact. Thinking they had misunderstood Amazon's policies and earned nearly $55,000 in one day, Shifty was initially excited. That is, until they realized that they had not actually earned anything; they had given away over 100,000 copies of their paid application for free and made absolutely nothing. To add salt to the wound, Pocket Casts “relies on a server to parse podcast feeds,” notes the disgruntled company. This means that at their own expense, they had to purchase more hardware to support the sudden influx of users.

As if they hadn't already been through enough, during their main page placement Amazon proceeded to price their application at $0.99, which normally ran for just shy of $2.00. By offering your application in the Amazon Appstore, you are giving Amazon the right to sell your application for whatever price they see fit at any give time. Bithack, the creators of the game Apparatus – which was also debuted as a Free App of the Day – learned this the hard way.

Shifty Jelly claims, "Amazon is being predatory here, and asking developers (who are often desperate for exposure) to give away their app, in order to promote Amazon." They told their tale as a public service announcement, not to rant about their own misfortunes – they made it very clear that they had an idea of what was going to happen and they accept the hand that they were dealt. They did, however, go on to list a few other things they found noteworthy while selling an application in the Amazon Appstore:

  • Lengthy review times of anywhere up to 2 weeks
  • Amazon gets to set the price of your app to whatever they want, without any input from you, or even the chance to reject their price
  • Amazon re-writes your description, and in ours they even made up things like ‘add up to 100 podcasts’. No idea where on earth they got that number from
  • Amazon does not provide error reports like Google does, making it hard to fix errors
  • They do not yet support Google’s new multiple APK initiative
  • Amazon pays far later than Google does, and to date we haven’t received any cheques from them, even though we are listed as being ‘payed’
  • US Only
  • Much less real-time sales information than Google
  • You can’t remove apps from their store! You have to ask them for permission via an email. Every other store lets you remove apps from sale.

Both Shifty Jelly and Bithack have since removed their applications from Amazon's Appstore. If you purchased their applications (or downloaded it while it was free), the application will still work, but users will no longer receive updates from the Appstore. Both developers are offering a refund to buyers (not cheapo, "App of the Day" downloaders) a refund if they want to purchase the application through Android Market and receive updates.

There had to be a catch along the lines somewhere. Offering paid apps for free, I knew someone had to be taking the blunt end. And I knew developers were taking a little blow from this, seeing as their apps were being offered for ... free. But I had no clue they made absolutely nothing by accepting Amazon's promotion deal. It will definitely make me think twice about downloading the daily free app again.

My guess is, more developers are going to begin to recognize this and are likely going to pull their own apps from Amazon's store. Is this a dirty play by Amazon? Or is the price you pay for front page exposure? I definitely recommend reading both Shifty Jelly's and Bithack's articles before you truly take a stand.