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App Developers Call Amazon Appstore "Rotten"

David Gilbert


Shift Jelly Pocket Cast Appstore

When Amazon launched its AppStore last March, one of the major features was the free App of the Day, but one company has found this promotion is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Recently, mobile developer Shifty Jelly posted a blog entitled “Amazon App Store: Rotten to the Core” which outlined how it felt Amazon had gone back on their promise to give developers 20 per cent of the list price of the app even when apps are discounted.

Shifty Jelly’s Pocket Cast was chosen by Amazon to feature as App of the Day but an email from Amazon (see below) offering it the chance to take part in the promotion, highlighted a previously unknown fact - that instead of 20 per cent of the list price, the developers would receive nothing, no matter how many apps were sold.

As you may already know, the Free App of the Day offer placement is one of the most visible and valuable spaces on the Amazon Appstore. We would like to include your app “[name removed]” in our Free App of the Day calendar. We have seen tremendous results from this promotion spot and believe it will bring you a great deal of positive reviews and traffic. It is an opportunity to build your brand especially in association with a brand like Amazon’s. The current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed.

[Emphasis included by Amazon]

Amazon Appstore App of the Day

Despite being conflicted about not getting paid for their work, the developers decided to go ahead with the promotion. On the day Pocket Cast was the free App of the Day, it was downloaded over 100,000 times. If the 20 per cent agreement was in place, Shifty Jelly would have earned around $55,000 for one day. As it is, it earned nothing.

As well as giving away its podcasting app for free, Shift Jelly has also had to purchase additional servers to help it parse the podcast feeds to meet additional demand from new users. Amazon also promises to place the free App of the Day on the first page of the Appstore for the week following the promotion, but this didn’t lead to the promised extra sales for Shifty Jelly, with the graph below showing the dramatic fall off in interest.

Shifty Jelly Pocket Cast Appstore

Shifty Jelly also listed other issues it had with the Appstore including lengthy review times, Amazon re-writing developers’ app descriptions, no error reports and the fact the Appstore is still only available in the US.

We put in a call to Amazon for a response to the post from Shifty Jelly, and this is what it had to say:

The Amazon Appstore for Android’s distribution agreement gives developers 70% of the sales price for each app. If we decide to discount an app, developers are also guaranteed a minimum revenue share equal to 20% of the app’s list price. The Free App of the Day is one of a number of promotional opportunities we offer developers who want to market their apps in new ways. Developers are asked to waive payment for sales while their app is featured in Free App of the Day (we’re not collecting money on those sales either), but the decision to participate is always up to the developer. Free App of the Day is designed to aid discovery of apps through the Amazon Appstore and developers can choose whether the increased exposure makes the modified payment terms worthwhile. The promotion has proven popular with developers because it provides a high-profile exposure opportunity and can help developers add to their installed base quickly.

Shifty Jelly has now removed the app from the Appstore, but it is still available in the Android Market. On the Amazon Appstore, the app is listed as suppressed.

Source: Shift Jelly’s blog of mystery

Shi An De

August 15, 2011, 6:54 pm

I'm not entirely sure what the developer has to complain about here. They were told in advance that they would not receive payment for the App if it was downloaded while it was the free App for the Day and given the choice not to sign up. They chose to sign up and underestimated the number of downloads that would result during that day (their mistake, not Amazon's). They also seem to be blaming Amazon for fewer than expected people paying for the App afterwards. Again not Amazon's fault. The developer made a commercial decision to advertise using a particular medium and it didn't have the results they wanted/expected.

Obviously I cannot comment on their other complaints, but the lack of sales seems to be the main one and is certainly what the article focused on.

Just to be clear, I don't work for Amazon either, so I have no loyalty either way. I just think in this instance they are not to blame.


August 15, 2011, 7:57 pm

I agree. Seems to be complaining over nothing. It's common sense that there will be far more downloads when it is free compared to when it is no longer free.

David Gilbert

August 15, 2011, 8:46 pm

The reason I think these developers are so annoyed is that when the initial agreement was signed, they (along with many others) were under the impression that it would be getting 20 per cent of the sale price even when the app was discounted - even to the point of being free.
Amazon certainly did make it clear to the developers that they wouldn't be making any money when it finally did sign up to the app of the day promotion, but I think the feeling among these developers is that they felt they were duped initially.


August 16, 2011, 12:05 am

I agree; they knew before saying yes what the deal would be. The key here is whether they made more money as a result of the free day than they would have otherwise, but that would always have been a gamble anyway.

I reckon the developer is making use of people's prejudice about app stores ripping people off in order to generate free publicity. Seems to have worked.


August 16, 2011, 12:29 am

They got every penny that they should have got, 20% of $0.00 (when it was free) is $0.00. Is anyone else confused by their complaint? Obviously the other complaints may be valid, but not the money issue.


August 16, 2011, 3:59 am

The comments here miss the point. That isn't what the developers are complaining about at all. Rather, it's the fact that Amazon says one thing in public and does another in private.

Amazon publicly used to state that devs get 20% of list price, even when the product is sold below list price. This is also what they used to put in their publicly published terms and conditions. They were, in addition, imposing a *secret* condition that the dev will get nothing if the App is promoted as the free App of the Day. I think it's a good thing that this is now in the open, so small developers have a better sense of exactly what Amazon is offering them when they sign up to the Amazon's Appstore. Amazon's "we will always pay you at least 20% of the list price, no matter what we sell it for" line is hugely attractive if you're an independent developer. It's certainly worth making it clear that that line isn't true.

I also wonder whether Rovio got nothing when Angry Birds was the free App of the Day. I can't imagine why Rovio they'd agree to give their app away for free to tens of thousands of people, given how well-known Angry Birds is - they must have gotten something in return. If Rovio were indeed paid when Angry Birds was the free App of the Day, it would mean that Amazon treats big and small devs differently. Again, this a good thing for small developers to know. As far as I know, most other app stores do not have different pricing policies for small and large developers.


August 16, 2011, 7:42 am

It was a chance from unknown to a possible hit. He took the chance, it did not work out, why complain?


August 16, 2011, 9:50 am

If that's all the developer was told then I think they should get some legal advice on a claim - to me "The current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed" means that they owe Amazon 0% of the rev share of that day. Surely a price of placement is how much Amazon are asking the developer for to promote it. It says nothing about a change to how much Amazon will pay them.


August 16, 2011, 2:04 pm

If I was a little-known developer with a new app, I'd be cutting off limbs for a chance to be 'Free App of the Day'.

You go from a position of minimal revenue because the app is new and unknown, to zero revenue for one day, to the app being on the Top Downloads and Recommended lists for some time thereafter. Fantastic visibility.

It's still a punt, as is all promotion. But one day's loss of revenue (which in the case of a lesser-known app probably isn't stratospheric prior to promotion) is likely to be more than recovered.

The equation changes if the free sales cost you in server provision, etc., but that's your judgement call.

I'm at a loss to understand the complaints about not getting your 20% of list as promised in the original agreement. You are offered a chance to participate in a promotion which waives your normal cut. Offered, not compelled. And the terms are clear - Amazon put the relevant clause in bold to draw your attention to it.

Amazon also gives up their cut in this promotion (indeed they take a temporary loss by receiving nothing to compensate for infrastructure, promotional space, app delivery, etc.), which is pretty sweet for you, as you presumably sign up believing the exercise will be of net benefit to your revenue!


August 16, 2011, 2:43 pm

@David Gilbert - This is not the case. The developers were not under the impression they were going to be paid. Re-read their blog which makes the whole story even stranger.

They even had a back-and-forth with Amazon before entering into the promotion where they called the terms "ridiculous" and said sarcastically "but we like being paid for our work."

After the exchange, the blog author writes that the terms seemed "predatory".

They then went ahead anyway!

When the post-promotional sales didn't outweigh the cost of server provision and support, they were upset.

So that was a bad business decision for them, but they knew what Amazon's terms were.

(Why, BTW, do they omit from the graph the sales in the 3 days immediately after the promotion, which you'd expect to benefit most from the presence in Amazon's Recent Free Apps and other Recommendations lists? Am I missing something here.)

This is a very unfair complaint on their part, and a non-story.

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