Starting from ~0 I recently passed 100K in revenue from app sales and advertising. Actually it's been awhile now, but I've been busy and 100 is more of a nice round number than 117 or whatever it is now. Anyways, it was a pretty cool milestone for me so I thought I'd share some of what I've learned over the past few years.
The biggest takeaway has been that having your own product is an interesting thing. When you are working for someone else, you get paid for the work you do in a given period of time. When you make your own product, you keep getting paid as long as people keep buying it from you. There are a few important points here:
1. If it is successful, you will make far more than you would on an hourly basis.
2. If it isn't successful, you will make almost nothing.
3. If it is successful, you will keep making money long after you are done with it.
The first 2 are mostly obvious, but that third point is really key. I've had several different freelance jobs fall into my lap recently, so I haven't done an update or made a new app since I think January or February of this year. Last week was my second highest week ever, and the last few months have been nice and steady.
All that being said, this business isn't something that you can autopilot forever. The last year taught me that. There were huge changes to the App Store that really hurt me last year. In June, Apple changed their search algorithm for the store, and then in September they changed the App Store interface with iOS 6. As you'll see in the following chart, these had a huge impact on my sales. I wasn't at the point where I was out looking for a job, but the thought crossed my mind.
(Note this figure only includes sales, not advertising revenue)
Things had been going steadily up with obvious spikes for different events until last June. The changes to the App Store had a big impact on me. I had to adjust. So I did. I added a few new apps in different categories than what I was in, hitting different audiences. I ported a few of my apps to Android. I added a winter app to help with the lull I was experiencing because many of my apps are more summer based. I added free versions of several apps. The free apps were the most important change. Because of the new store more heavily weighting downloads, free apps were getting much better placement. To compete, I had to make free versions to market my paid apps.
This maintenance was thankfully successful. I released my Android and Windows ports around Christmas, and my free versions at the beginning of the year. This, combined with a bump from Christmas gift cards is where things turned around. Once things got straightened out, I haven't had to do much to keep the status quo for a few months.
Moral of the story? You have to pay attention and understand how the business works. When things change, you have to adapt and change with them. Once you take care of that though, products can keep selling for a long period of time. My best selling app is something I made 2 years ago in about 2 weeks. I've made updates as needed, and spent a few days getting a free version out, but for the most part I haven't spent hardly any time on it.
If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my book on how I make money on the mobile app stores called Building an App Business.