05 Aug 2018  |  Guide

Making the Move from the Mac App Store to Direct Sales

5 minute read

If you're thinking of making a move from selling solely on the Mac App Store, we answer the initial questions you might be asking yourself and offer a more lucrative compromise you could adopt.

If you have a Mac app, whether you’re solely on the Mac or cross-platform, selling it as a one-off fee or charging for a recurring service via subscription, you’ve probably used or considered the Mac App Store (MAS). It offers a very simple way to be discovered, but at a high cost and without much flexibility or customer ownership.

You may therefore ask yourself:

  • Should I sell on the Mac App Store only? Or at all?
  • Who should use it and when?
  • Is there any risk in leaving it to sell on my own website?
  • Does this impact my relationship with Apple? E.g. am I less likely to get featured?
  • What impact does this have on my overall sales?

We’ll go through these questions, based on our experience seeing hundreds of Mac developers sell on the MAS, out of the MAS and on both platforms - and the impact this had on them.

For whom is the Mac App Store appropriate?

Let’s start by looking at the pros and cons of the MAS to see what it offers.

Pros

  • The MAS handles a lot of the infrastructure for you: you focus on building your app, they handle the checkout, fulfilment etc.
  • They’re brilliant for the discovery aspect, placing emerging apps in front of new users. You only have to look at apps like Bear or Ulysses who got a lot of initial traction from this aspect.

Cons

  • You need to pay a 30% commission to Apple just for hosting your app.
  • If you’re offering subscriptions Apple takes a recurring cut - they’ve lowered it but it’s still very high to 15% a year after the first year.
  • Changing pricing is harder.
  • You can’t try more innovative billing models, such as charging to unlock premium features.
  • You don’t own the customers and can’t easily build an audience to whom you can cross-sell other products and services.
  • The Mac App Store is far from the prominence of the iOS App Store, and cannot claim to be the place where most Mac users go to find apps (it’s the web).

As you can see, the MAS is very appropriate if you are getting started or have a very straightforward pricing and billing model. But much less so if you’ve established your product now and can rely on your own marketing, organic traffic and word of mouth to promote your product and grow a customer base; want to test billing and pricing regularly to focus on revenue growth; or simply don’t want to give away one third of your revenue.

Should I be on the Mac App Store or not?

I don’t want to deal with the checkout, billing, fulfilment etc.

In this case if you want to avoid building your own customer base as well and purely focus on coding your app, go with the App Store (you can always grow out of it later). If you want to build and own your customer base, consider a solution like Paddle which allows you to focus on building, not billing and handles everything the App Store offers (minus the discoverability by customers, that’s on you) with a much higher flexibility and a very different approach to pricing.

I’ve got my own customer base and am happy with it

In this case it’s pretty clear: you don’t need to be on the Mac App Store and should go direct.

I like my independence and flexibility, but fancy the potential customers of the Mac App Store

Having your cake and eating it? That’s actually possible.

You can of course just offer your products on both your website and the Mac App Store (potentially simplifying the billing model there to deal with the limitations of what’s possible on the MAS). You’ll get additional revenue, at the cost of a lower margin and some ongoing work to keep a great profile and ensure reviews are positive to avoid damaging your reputation.

Another strategy, which we’ve seen applied with great success, is to offer the first version in the App Store for free then upsell version two in-app via an interstitial for more revenue, once selling direct makes more sense for you. This combined strategy allows you to take advantage of the discovery aspect and then reap a higher commission once the user decides to upgrade. You can also follow a similar strategy with a freemium model, where users can download a free app in the MAS but come to your website to upgrade.

This can be made easier by a process of receipt validation whereby:

  1. The user purchases the app on the app store. They unknowingly receive a digital receipt within the app, validating their purchase.
  2. When you launch your next major version; in order to do the upgrade you can write a small bit of code that finds the digital receipt.
  3. This allows you to offer the user a discounted purchase flow for a licence upgrade.

More information about this process can be found here.

Once you’ve signed people up to your email list, you can easily advertise the benefits of upgrading to them. They can then upgrade through the email or in-app.

Will I lose revenue if I move away from the Mac App Store?

Two Mac software companies to take note of are Dash and Rogue Amoeba, who successfully moved from the MAS and found “more revenue as a whole without much damage to sales”.

Rogue Amoeba and Dash had sophisticated buyers, who were already aware of the product and ready for a new major version, or new products.

This is also true of B2B products as well, who find the move to direct sales more fruitful. This worked for apps like Sketch or Panic who transitioned well because their customers were less likely to discover and/or buy apps via the MAS.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons, we hope that this has clarified your thoughts on whether you should use or stay on the Mac App Store. In most cases we recommend using a hybrid model that incorporates both the MAS and selling direct, as this will increase your reach and independence when pricing and selling to your customers.

Keep reading more guides

Read the previous guide in the series:

How To Mobilize Your Existing Users When You Launch

Read the next guide in the series:

How to do Pre-orders and Internal Betas

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