Last week I shared a series of thoughts about monetization of Windows Store apps, and today I have one more–not about monetization, per se, but about this idea of an app store in general.

I get the impression that many developers have looked upon app stores as a way to easily make money with whatever apps they care to submit. That is, there’s an idea that app stores, like the Windows Store but also those on other platforms, will somehow bring customers to one’s app with less effort than it has in the past.

In my opinion, the real truth is that app stores are simply a different kind of distribution mechanism that just so happens to also handle transactions. On the web, which was the primary distribution mechanism before app stores (and still remains one), you typically had to incorporate some commerce engine into your own web site to conduct sales. But this is now built in.

That said, most apps have the same challenge as before: customers still have to find your app in the Store, just like they had to find your site on the web. With tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of apps in a store, and search results showing maybe 30-50 at a time, I don’t really think this part of the picture has really changed that much.

Furthermore, the mistaken idea that its easier to make money with an app in an app store has led many a developer, I’m sure, to imagine that they can cobble together something that will pass Store certification thinking that it will suddenly earn them a comfortable living. It reminds me of a friend who thought that all she had to do with her home business was put up a web site and people would find her. I’m sure you laugh at that thought as absurd–and so too should you laugh at the thought that simply being in the Store is going to produce business. Maybe you’ll get some, but as the app count increases, discoverability in any given store becomes harder and harder.

This really means two things. First, you have to write good software to be successful, plain and simple. It’s really amazing to compare the experience offered by top-line apps and those that are produced by a hobbyist. It’s essentially like the difference between a professionally-crafted movie and something you’ve shot in your backyard with a $99 camera: there’s simply no contest. In other words, if you expect to make good money with an app, you should expect to really invest in it. And this has always been true in the software industry.

Second, you can have the best software in the world but it won’t matter if people dont’ know about it. This means making another investment in marketing, plain and simple. This too has not changed in all the years–promotion matters! Think about it: if you were to set up a small brick-and-mortar shop in your home town, you’d immediately engage in promotional activities of some kind, because the business will quickly go under otherwise. And you’d never question that need especially because you’ve invested so much in getting the business started, and the cost of failure is losing that investment. With apps, you can get something in the Store with a much smaller up-front investment, and so there’s less of a perception of risk of failure. As a result, developers aren’t as invested in the success of that app as they might be with a real business. But if you want that app to suceed and not just exist, then you really do have to treat it the same way.

What’s also true in business is that when you start to generate revenue from your initial promotions, you need to dedicate part of that revenue to continued marketing as well as expansion of the business. In other words, some portion of every dollar you earn with an app should be earmarked for marketing activities, because that’s how you’ll begin to build a sustainable flow. By also earmarking another portion for further development, you’re investing in the sustainability of the business when revenue from the first product begins to wane.

The bottom line, then, is that although apps stores have brought a new distribution method with built-in commerce, running a successful software business requires the same dedication and investment as always. Have a great product, and invest in the effort to let people know about it.

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