Stingy, with in-app purchases

April 18, 2021

When I started writing this text, I had just submitted a version of Podcast Chapters which would revert the app to be paid up-front, removing the in-app purchase.


Because, for some reason, fewer people are willing to pay to unlock a free version than are willing to pay before even trying the app. Significantly less willing, despite an experimental one-week sale. Podcast Chapters has never made a lot of money, but sales were quite steady, and that income was a great motivation to keep working on the app. Since people are unfortunately not likely to get in touch to tell me why they are not buying my app, I am left to speculate wildly about reasons.

My own thinking got as far as realizing that the purchase psychology must be a lot different for in-app purchases than for straight up paid apps. I asked around a bit and heard an interesting second-hand theory:

In short, in the Mac app store, being paid up-front and having regular updates are seen as quality markers. People who look for utility apps look at paid and free options separately, trying multiple free options before settling on one. And if a free app is limited by an in-app purchase, people are more likely to move on to check out the next free option rather than making the purchase.

Hence, Podcast Chapters made a good impression as a paid app, but fared poorly when free with a relatively expensive-looking in-app purchase required for full functionality.

Then what happened?

As I looked this text over, writing paused mid-sentence, I realized there was one rather large elephant relaxing over on the couch:

A severely limited free app is no fun.

My original reaction to the in-app purchase not selling was to lower the number of chapters you could add for free, making it darn near impossible to get a feel for using the app as intended. How was anyone supposed to get a good impression and make a fair evaluation of the app with that?

Before I go back to paid up-front, surely it is worth trying giving people a fair ability to truly use the app as intended? It is not like I need to convince a lot of people after all, a pretty modest conversion rate would easily bring sales back to what they were before. Surely, the added eyes on the app should be good for me if I just give them a fair trial version?

The end, for now

I rejected the version myself and quickly submitted a new one raising the chapter limit to a magnificent ten chapters. Suddenly, I have gone from feeling frustrated at the state of things to carefully optimistic. Perhaps this type of utility is best served as a paid up-front thing, but it must be worth experimenting a little more before settling back in familiar territory.


I think this is the first time I have sat down to write about a decision, changed my mind midway and gone in a new direction by the end. I knew already how good writing is for my thinking, but this is a new and exciting level.