Welcome to my brain towards the end of app development.
The new app is really nearly done. Done enough for a wider testing audience, anyway. And that is awesome. I even have moments where I think the app is pretty awesome. Like yesterday, when I was getting ready to go out for the evening to see Stephanie Pearl-McPhee talk about her newest book and I got my Expecto Patronum vest project materials and downloaded the chart I'd made for the back onto my phone and pulled it into a new project IN MY OWN APP and in a minute or two set up row notes for myself for the arm hole shaping and set the chart to start on the 7th row, like I wanted. And THEN, because the screen is bigger, I switched over to the iPad and ALL THAT STUFF I JUST DID on the phone (because that's where it was easiest to pull in the chart) showed up over there and off I went. And it worked like a charm while I knitted during the talk. This makes me VERY HAPPY.
DOESN'T CAPS LOCK MAKE ME SOUND HAPPY?? No?
Probably because now that the app is mostly done and AWESOME (don't worry, I have plenty of self-doubting spirals, too, yay) I am finally up against the brick wall of how this app could make enough money that I'll be able to support it. To add nice features and to just plain keep it running on each yearly update to the operating system.
Not that I haven't been thinking about this all along — I totally have. From before I even started coding, as any decent business person should, right? But I'm just not happy with the options.
Here's what I'd really like to have: You download the app for free and can use it to work on some set number of projects (say 5 or so, plenty to get a good feel for whether the app is worth it to you and, hopefully, convince you that it is). Once you've used up that number, I ask you to buy a subscription. One or two dollars a month for unlimited use. By this point, you should feel confident that the app is important enough to you to be willing to pay something. And one or two dollars is a small enough amount that, even though it recurs, is not going to make you too upset or break your bank. And you can stop it any time you want, too. But one or two dollars a month is also enough that a small-ish group of dedicated users would allow me to do better than just break even (although my business costs are fairly low, I need childcare — Shmoogie has been babysat by the TV/iPad enough already — and that ain't cheap).
The problem is with Apple. I can't offer that "auto renewing" subscription because my app isn't providing you with new "content". If I were to offer you a new pattern every month inside the app, I'd be within Apple's rules. But that's a headache I don't want and a feature I doubt most users would want, anyway.
I could offer the subscription idea I want, I think, but it couldn't renew automatically. I'd have to pop up at you every month and ask you to please renew. Not only would this be a constant ask for money, which would probably make you less happy with the app, but you'd have the huge annoyance of typing your password in all the time. To mitigate both these things, I'd have to make the subscription period longer. But that would mean raising the price per unit, which is psychologically bad for you (and thus for me), or getting less revenue, bad for me.
Plus, the technical details of administering this kind of subscription look to be even more painful than the auto-renewing kind, which is bad enough. I'm sure I can get it figured out, but it will be multiple days of effort (and not fun effort).
The easiest option, by FAR, because it would require no code from me at all, would be to just set a price for the app and sell it. The problem is, this is no way to make sustainable revenue on the App Store these days. People are so used to free or super cheap apps that they're not going to drop $30 on an app without some serious consideration. Plus, even at that steep price, I'm not convinced it would be enough in the long run, since the app has to be supported indefinitely (i.e. new code has to be written) and Apple offers absolutely no way to have existing users pay for major upgrades. People hack around that in various ways, but they all have serious drawbacks.
Slightly better, I could offer a free download with the limited trial (e.g. create 5 projects) and when that runs out, you pay $30 once for an upgrade that lasts forever. Or... hmm. I hadn't thought about this and I don't think I've heard anyone else mention it... (and this is exactly what I was hoping to get out of this stream of consciousness rant)... the one-time payment could give you unlimited use for 1.x releases, but maybe you'd have to pay again to unlock full access once 2.0 comes out? This is a somewhat interesting idea. I will have to think about that. (Problem: apps update automatically now, so you'd have no choice to keep your old version, even if you were happy with it.)
But, the downside here is similar to before, $30 is not an amount you're going to pay without thinking much about it. And I'd still have to write all the icky verification code to make it all work. Blech.
The other option I was seriously considering, although it makes me feel crummy, is the "virtual currency" option. Instead of selling you a month of unlimited use (not allowed by Apple), I could sell you a stack of "tokens" and you'd have to "spend" a token each time you created a new project. This could be awesome for revenue. Maybe. But it's deeply depressing to me because I don't want you parsing out your project starts, trying to preserve tokens. Especially because I think one of the awesomest things about the app is that you can connect to your Ravelry account (Ravelry is kind of like Facebook for knitters and crocheters, but way nicer than Facebook; and they just hit 4 million users!). This keeps your Ravelry projects up to date very easily (lots of people, like me, have trouble staying on top of that because it's totally separate from your normal knitting work flow), creating a new Ravelry project for every project you create in the app and a new project in the app for every project you create on Ravelry. If I'm charging you a token for every project, I'd feel bad about that if you had projects you wanted to post on Ravelry, but didn't need any of the app's functionality for. (Maybe I could work around that... charge you a token only if you actually opened that project inside the app?) Anyway, it just feels tacky. Like a really annoying money-grabbing game. My app is better than that.
The main problems here, though, are the ones you should be familiar with by now, constantly charging the user leads to bad feelings (I think, although I do personally use Paperless Post to send pretty e-cards and they charge tokens and I still use the service, although the token purchasing does irritate me) and I still have to write the gucky code to offer, make, track, and verify your token purchases.
OK. I think that's the bulk of what is in my head on the topic at the moment and now it's time to go pick up the boy from school. So. Let me know if you have any ideas. Or if you want to be a tester for this totally AWESOME new app. :)