updated 08:55 am EDT, Tue August 2, 2011
Amazon renegs on paying for promo apps
Mobile app developer Shifty Jelly in a disclosure revealed that Amazon is renegging on developer promises and refusing to pay developers for promos for the Appstore. Although its agreement officially states that it will pay developers 20 percent of the price of an app, Amazon told Shifty Jelly that it would pay nothing at all for promoting Pocket Casts ($3, Android Market) and that the attention from the free giveaway plus highlighted placement was reward enough. While the developer agreed as an experiment, it learned that it would have made $54,805 in one day from the 101,491 downloads if it had been paid according to Amazon's original agreement.
Amazon also decided without telling the developer that it would drop the price to 99 cents for some days afterwards. It also rewrote the description, including false information. The online retailer didn't factor maintenance into account and, because of the influx of users on Pocket Casts, is now actively hurting Shifty Jelly by forcing it to improve its server capacity.
The store itself lags behind Android Market and Apple's App Store, according to the account of events. App review times last up to two weeks, with pay coming later if at all. Analytics are described as poor, and there are no error reports to help diagnose bugs without direct user contact. Developers can't even remove apps themselves and have to ask permission.
Promises that going free for the one day would help proved hollow, Shifty Jelly said. Apart from a small increase in sales for the day afterwards, performance almost immediately returned back to the way it was before. The benefit was all for Amazon and could have been fatal for a company trusting Amazon for its success.
"I guess it's just lucky for us that this was an experiment, and that we don't make our full time income from selling Android apps, but rather from developing for iOS," the developer said. "That said, we want to make a clear stand here, so that Amazon doesn't take advantage of those less fortunate than us."
Amazon hasn't had an opportunity to respond to the allegations but has usually asked developers to keep these after-registration deals a secret. The company is known to often sell Kindle books and MP3 music at a loss to drive sales but, in those cases, still honors the payouts content creators would get if they were charging full price. The Appstore terms, where developers only get a fraction of their usual cut even if Amazon is faithful to what it promises on sign-up, suggest it may be counting on app writers' weaker positions to minimize its losses and turn apps into free advertising for the store.
Developers have been critical of Google's Android Market for poor app discovery but usually haven't complained about its approval and pricing strategies, which are deliberately kept loose and help speed the arrival of apps in the store. Apple's tighter approval process can lead to the two-week approvals of Amazon's shop but, unlike either, has typically been complimented for its greater support of paid apps and better overall app discovery than most Android stores.