Thursday, September 22, 2011

Marketing and Monetization Interview Series #1. René Schulte –Creator of Pictures Lab

IMG_1629_edit_bw_hfI’m starting a new initiative which hopefully becomes a regular feature of this blog. Every week (or so) I will interview developers/publishers of top Windows Phone apps. The interviews will focus on the marketing and monetization strategies used by these top developers. What worked, what didn’t, what’s important and what is a waste of time and money. Subscribe to this blog and/or follow @AdDuplex on Twitter to be notified of the new interviews in these series.

Our first guest is my good virtual friend whom I have yet to meet in person – René Schulte. René is a .Net, Silverlight and Windows Phone software developer and Silverlight MVP passionate about real-time computer graphics and algorithms. He loves Augmented Reality, computer vision and image processing and runs several Silverlight / WP7 open source projects. René is also the creator of the highly acclaimed Pictures Lab app and other successful Windows Phone apps. He's a blogger and a regular author for various magazines and sites including Microsoft's Coding4Fun.

Pictures Lab was in the Marketplace before the initial Windows Phone launch in 2010. How important do you think this was to the success of the app?

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I think this was quite important since it got a lot of attention for being the first real picture effects / photo filter app in the market. The big blogs like Gizmodo, Engadget and MSNBC covered a few of the must have WP7 apps and Pictures Lab got featured in all. I guess that helped to jump start the app.

MSNBC.com wrote: "a Swiss Army knife of photo tweaks".

Engadget.com: "a must-have for WP7 devices ... the program provides a set of amazing effects and tweaks for your photos"

Gizmodo.com : "Pictures Lab offers a ton of effects for your money."

What was your primary motivation for becoming a Windows Phone developer? Did you have a plan for this to become your main professional occupation? Is it your primary occupation now?

I'm a Silverlight MVP and Silverlight is one of the two development technologies for WP7. So it was quite natural. It actually started with a couple of WP7 articles I wrote for Microsoft's Coding4Fun. Pictures Lab is an app I wanted foremost for myself. :)  

It isn't my main occupation now. It's a nice extra income, but the market share of WP7 is too low for a main occupation, esp. if you have a family. We all hope for Mango and Nokia. :)

Pictures Lab is a paid app. Do you think it was/is the right monetization strategy for it? Would you do the same if you were releasing it today?

In short: Yes. :) [See below for René’s thoughts on why ad supported works for some apps, but not for all.]

Have you sorted out through all the Marketplace paperwork to get paid? In other words, did you ever get money from Microsoft? :)

It took me 8 months to get an ITIN from the IRS in the USA. After I finally got it and sent the remaining forms to Microsoft, the first payout happened. I now get payouts each month.

Your Helium Voice app has both paid and free/ad-supported versions. Did you release both versions at the same time? Can you disclose what is the ratio of downloads for the free and paid versions? What about income?

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Helium Voice was released in November 2010 and has 18773 downloads as of today.

Helium Voice Free was released in March 2011 and has 143002 downloads as of today.

The ad supported version constantly generates a good amount of revenue. Interestingly the release of the free app had no negative impact on the sales of the paid version.

Your newest apps Cloud Recorder and Benchmark Free are only available as free apps. Does it mean that you think that ad supported approach is the way to go at the moment?

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Yes, for some apps. In particular long running or often executed apps (like games) benefit from the ad supported model, esp. if an impression based ad network is used, where you get paid out for every minute (?) of impression.

I think other apps which aren't used that often work better with the usual trial / paid model. Pictures Lab is an example for this. BTW, a good trial mode is very important. Many users don't even consider to download an app if it hasn't a trial mode.

You live in Germany but you are using Microsoft's pubCenter as your primary ad provider. It's known that until recently they only supported developers from USA. What did you do about it?

At the moment an US address and tax number is needed in order to get paid out, but as non-US user it's possible to register and collect the revenue. I hope to get paid when their expansion process is finalized. They're currently expanding to more countries including Germany. 

How do you promote your apps?

I tweet and blog about the apps and contact the well-known WP7 blogs when I created a new app or released a major update. I also use AdDuplex as fallback ad network in my ad supported apps. In the AdDuplex stats of the apps I see that my ads are clicked regularly.

Do you think that social media/networks play an important role in app promotion?

Yes. If you have an unique app with some great features, the news will spread around quickly.

Have you ever paid for promotion?

No.

Were your apps ever featured in the Marketplace? Did you do anything special to get featured? What effect on downloads/sales did that have, if any?

Yes. My apps actually get featured on a regular basis. I didn't do anything for it. I only try to make nice apps and I pay a lot of attention on good UX.

There are major and minor features in the Marketplace and each country has its own list of featured apps. Being featured in the US as major feature once resulted in 450% more downloads on that day than the days before. The days after the feature also had slightly higher downloads than the days before the feature.

I’d like to thank René for his time participating in this experiment. Hopefully you have enjoyed this interview. Since this was a first attempt, I’d really like to hear your opinion on the format, future question suggestions, etc. Please, do not hesitate to provide your feedback in the comments. Your input is highly appreciated!

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