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!

Serving Logic Bug Introduced, Fixed.

On Tuesday we have deployed an update to improve serving ratios that were off for some apps. Unfortunately a bug was introduced in the process which resulted in exchange ads for some apps being substantially underserved and substantially overserved for others. The bug is now fixed and the stats should normalize over the next 2 days. I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience this could have caused you.

When things settle down we will compensate the deficit for those underserved and if you got more than you had to get… well, consider this as your lucky day 😉

Stats: 3rd Silverlight, 2nd XNA Ad Network on Windows Phone

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Justin Angel has published an epic research into internals of all the Windows Phone apps (as of mid-August 2011). The blog post is full of interesting information and is a must read for every Windows Phone developer and enthusiast.

AdDuplex SDK has made it into a list of Top 55 libraries used in in Windows Phone apps (along with our sister project – amCharts Quick Charts). The list is a gem by itself. You should definitely check all the libraries in there. By looking through the list we can see that we are the number 3 most popular ad network for Silverlight apps (behind the juggernauts Microsoft and Google) and number 2 for XNA games (second to Microsoft only).

I would like to thank you all for using AdDuplex and making it what it is today. And if you aren’t using AdDuplex yet… what are you waiting for? Join now!

Version 1.2.3 of AdDuplex SDK Released

We have just released version 1.2.3 of AdDuplex SDK for both Silverlight and XNA. New version changes behavior of the ad tap from reacting to user tapping the ad to user releasing the ad. This was done to minimize the number of accidental clicks. Another important issue that was resolved is related to a side effect that manifests itself in Mango apps – when returning to the app after clicking on the ad, the ad was no longer clickable. This was fixed.

RefreshInterval property was added to the XNA library. This property allows you to modify the default interval (60 seconds) at which the new ads are requested. Valid values – from 20 to 120 seconds. Another XNA specific fix – the ad wasn’t requested immediately when switching AdManager from disabled to enabled. Now it will request a new ad when AdManager is enabled (provided RefreshInterval period has passed since the last request).

As usual, the bits can be downloaded from the Download page in the client area.

Let Your Ad Space Work for You 100%

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Photo by Kalyan Chakravarthy

Some Windows Phone apps are just starting their journey up the Marketplace charts and some feel pretty comfortable close to the top. While it’s obviously reasonable for the former to care about marketing more than monetization, it’s not that obvious for the latter.

Developers making healthy income from their popular ad-supported apps are happy with what they get and are eagerly waiting for Windows Phone’s market share to implode with the release of Mango and the next generation of WP hardware.

Spending a part of monetizable ad space for anything other than making money seems to be wasteful to developers. Especially since Microsoft’s pubCenter pays really well for those ads. What’s missing from the pubCenter stats though, is a pretty standard metric in online advertising world called “fill rate”. Fill rate tells you how many of your ad requests were served with actual ads.

Since pubCenter doesn’t disclose this metric the actual ratio of ad requests to served ads remains unknown, but if stats on other networks and/or platforms are of any indication it’s safe to assume it’s far from 100%. The numbers reported are from as low as 17% to as high as 96% but it’s never 100%.

So a chunk of your ad inventory does nothing. It doesn’t make you any money but just occupies the allocated space. You can fallback to some other ad network when this happens, and then to another when the second one fails and so on. There’s an easy and flexible solution to achieve that. Or you can just fallback to a network with virtually 100% fill rate – AdDuplex – and use the underserved portion of your ad inventory to further promote your app and make it even more popular == more money in the future.

You can use the excellent above mentioned Windows Phone 7 Ad Rotator to do that or you can just use a simple hand-made switcher. The point is that your app can never be too popular and there’s no reason to waste unused ad space. Make it work for you!

Port Your App To Windows Phone – Get Free Promotion

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I’m a fan of Brandon Watson’s hands on approach to helping developers migrate their apps to Windows Phone. Microsoft owns the platform, but it’s beneficial to all of us in the Windows Phone ecosystem to have an easy migration path for users from other platforms. Windows Phone provides great user experience out of the box, has a good number of really great apps, but quite often not having an app that users learned to love on their current platform is what stopping them from joining us.

So we decided to join the quest of encouraging developers on other platform to join WPDEV and offer a 20,000 ad impression to every app migrated from some other mobile platform (iOS, Android, webOS, Blackberry, etc.) until the end of the year. Here is the deal.

Rules

  1. Have an app published in the official application store on other mobile platform before August 22, 2011.
  2. Port and publish it in Windows Phone Marketplace from August 22, 2011 to December 31, 2011.
  3. Request your 20,000 ad impressions coupon by sending links to your app on the other platform and Windows Phone platform to info@adduplex.com

That is it. You don’t have to join AdDuplex in order to participate, but you are very welcome! You’ll get even more exposure for your new app and help other developers in the process. Learn more here.

Welcome to the Windows Phone developer community!

Version 1.2.2.1 of XNA Library Released

We have just published a new release of XNA Library for AdDuplex. As usual you can download it from the Download page in Client Area.

This version brings AdLoaded, AdClick and AdLoadingError events introduced in the last Silverlight control release over to XNA. In addition the size of the library DLL has been reduced 4x.

Release Date Is A Feature. Especially In Mobile.

I remember reading Jeff Atwood’s blog post titled “Version 1 Sucks, But Ship It Anyway” a couple of years ago. I encourage you to read it and I think it’s even more important in mobile projects and here is why.

Web projects usually don’t have a lot of dependencies on some client side features that become available at some specific point in time. Usually feature availability takes time to propagate across all the major browsers over time making it a moving target. The situation is similar on the desktop. At least in the Windows world.

In mobile, on the other hand, each major mobile OS release adds new possibilities for app developers. New APIs allow us to build apps that were not possible before and whoever is there first gains a huge market advantage over those who come later.

You don’t need to spend a lot of time and money on marketing, if your app is the only one in it’s class. And there’s a huge chance that every blog doing a review of apps for the brand new mobile OS release will mention your app and the mention and link will be there forever.

Achieving the same level of ubiquity will cost you a lot more if you are late to the game. Even if your product is much better and way more polished. You’ve already lost your first battle.

This applies to any mobile platform, but, since this blog (and AdDuplex in general) is targeted at Windows Phone developers, I’m obviously aiming this at the Mango release. If you are in the process of developing an app with core value proposition depending on new APIs in Mango (camera access, sockets, local db, etc.), place “Release date” close to the top of your feature backlog.

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About Monetization on AdDuplex

Since we’ve launched a “mixed model” feature I get at least one email about it every day. Sometimes it’s because the mechanics of it are relatively complicated. This is something that can be and will be addressed over time.

Most of the times, however, the questions in the emails are based on the assumption that AdDuplex is a monetization platform for apps. I’m sorry to disappoint a number of users, but it’s not. AdDuplex is a self/cross promotion platform first and foremost. The mixed model (aka monetization) feature is only a bonus add-on for the main purpose of the system.

The point is: if you don’t value the promotion of your app at least as much as money you can get from the ads, then AdDuplex is most likely not the right choice for you. There’s no option to participate in the monetization part of the system without participating in the exchange part. And there are no plans to change that concept in the nearest future.

I understand that this explanation may turn some developers away from AdDuplex, but I’d rather see them happy elsewhere, than unhappy over here. Everything has it’s purpose and everything has to solve some problem for someone. AdDuplex aims to solve the free app promotion and exposure problem. If this is something that you need you are very welcome. You may even make some money in the process!