Don't be afraid of freebies

Some of you may know that I have a couple apps in the App Store focused on mobile music creation. Since this is a hobby for me, I don’t have a big budget for advertising (maybe one or two hundred dollars a month), so I tend to rely on as much free word of mouth as possible. I have a facebook page, and a twitter account. I do things like blogging about new features or running sales and contests to generate news posts on websites that cater to my target audience. These activities have a fairly measurable effect on the day’s sales, and I can track the extra traffic thanks to Google Analytics. I also try to make sure that my presence in the app store is positive, since a good number of people find my app there first (rather than on the web or in a magazine). Aside from text and screenshots, the thing that influences purchases the most is reviews. One interesting thing I’ve noticed about reviews is that when you give your app away for free, you end up with a lot more critical reviews which may hurt in the long run. I have a paid version of my app and a ‘lite’ version which serves as a demo. The ‘lite’ version has considerably more negative reviews, mostly by people who don’t understand the app or who were just looking for something different. People who are going to plunk down money usually do a bit more research before making a download, and are a little more committed to getting something they will enjoy. At 10$, my app isn’t an impulse buy either.

Anyway, getting to the point of this article – I recently decided that I didn’t like the 1 star review sitting at the top of my list of reviews. My reviews are mostly in the 4 and 5 star range with very few exceptions. So I decided I would offer free copies for anyone willing to write a review (no strings attached), and I posted about it on my website and on twitter. The post got picked up on another, larger site and within a few hours my in-box was filled with 25 people offering to write reviews. I decided I would honor all the people who had written in with free copies, but closed up the offer to anyone else. Apple only gives developers 50 free copies for each version of their app, and I wanted to have some left over to give to magazines and other websites, should someone request a copy. I was a little worried that giving away so many free copies would hurt my sales for the day. For reference, I don’t think I’ve sold 25 copies in a day since the app first launched.  In addition, the people that responded are exactly the kind of people who would probably have paid money for the app. Now that a week has passed, I can honestly say that my fears were totally unjustified. The day I offered to give away free copies, sales were up 38% from their average levels and I finished out the week 20% higher than my weekly average. Plus I have almost a dozen additional 4 and 5 star reviews in my portfolio. Even though 25 people got free copies, there were probably 5 times as many people who took a look at my application for the first time and maybe decided to buy it later. The moral of the story? Nothing generates interest like giving away free stuff, and for a small time software developer like myself, there are lots of opportunities for free advertising.

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