snowman@2x.pngAs every seasoned iPhone developer knows, the Christmas season is Big. Retailers, online and physical, make most of their annual revenue in the fourth quarter. It’s not quite that lopsided for iDevs, but the rewards can be great, both before and after Christmas. As everyone knows now, Apple shuts off access to the iTunes Connect portal from December 23rd to 28th, meaning you must get all updates and price changes in effect by the 22nd.

‘Tis the Season

In the run-up to Christmas, ad spending goes through the roof. Ad-supported apps typically see their eCPM double and triple during this period, but not across all ad networks. That’s why it’s important to use a 3rd-party mediation layer to maximize your ad revenue. It’s interesting to pit the networks against each other, many promising campaigns of ultra-high returns (for an albeit short period). Being locked into a single ad network (even iAd) is not where you want to be during November and December.

Paid application developers struggle before Christmas with the onslaught of new& holiday apps, and daily price reductions designed to increase presence on the App Store. Why? Because Apple will sell 10 million new iOS devices in the current quarter. With a few million new users on Christmas day alone, being in the right place on the App Store will spell the difference between it being a big day and huge day. In 2008 our paid apps doubled in sales on Christmas and the week after. In 2009 that difference was closer to 4x. While it would be nice to see that again, I don’t expect it; but we’re doing everything we can to boost our apps’ positions.

Getting There

Recently we’ve written about raising prices and maintaining a steady-ish revenue. This works well under normal circumstances, but would probably relegate us to the lower levels of Christmas bumps. The games categories are just too competitive, there’s less perceived value in holding out at a higher price. In this case we want to time things such that a price reduction and other promotions conspire to give the highest rankings boost just before the 23rd. How come?

I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that most of our apps are purchased on-device. It’s just not that satisfying to buy apps on iTunes on your desktop computer. Unless you are drawn there from a review site or maybe a promo code, you’re probably spending most of your app-shopping time on the iPod touch or iPhone. And you’re a developer! Joe average citizen probably syncs his device  a couple times a month at most, and is not likely to wait around for iTunes to sync so he can enjoy a new purchase. If this is true, then the rankings on the App Store app on the device start to look very important. Especially that first “page” of 25 apps in each category. That’s where you want to be. That’s the magic page that will effectively boost your sales (free or paid) more so than being on the second or third page. Guess how many users never even tap on that “Twenty Five more…” button?

Final Thoughts

If you can get into that top 25, that’s great. Do what you need to do to stay there. If you’ve got truly awesome games, maybe a feature will help you along the way. I’m not that lucky. Advertising can help, some work better than others. We are trying out Tapjoy this year, and it looks very promising. Cross-promotion with other developers is also something we do throughout the year. Every little bit helps.

If you are in that sweet spot when Christmas arrives, you may choose to raise your price back to normal. This will certainly help your bottom line with the potential to reach millions of new customers in a very short time. Just remember to make that change before the 23rd, else you’ll be shut out of iTunes Connect and wondering what could have been.


This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iOS development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web site, RSS feed, or Twitter.