In October 2012, I launched the Appville Magazine as a way to give developers tips on how to market their apps and understand the business of the App store. Fast forward to 3 months later, I believe the app has been successful (at least for my standards). Here is the story from beginning to the current day and how that came about.

The idea is not to brag, hell no. But to show you what is possible and hopefully give you some inspiration for your own apps.

The app is free and there are no in-app purchases so there no revenue numbers to report. Nonetheless, I have seen many free apps that don’t manage to get a 100 downloads so the tips in this article will also help you if you had a paid app.

How I got the idea

The idea came from wanting to have an app for iOS developers. An app that explains the marketing of an app.

Today, there are a lot of blogs and publications out there that talk about development, tutorials and tools that developers can use to make apps. But you will not find a lot of sites where people talk about the marketing end of things, how to get your apps in the App Store, how to promote your app,
how to get reviews and how to get your app downloaded a lot more.

Why Make a Newsstand App And not post it on a blog?

I could have actually written a blog and posted these articles on it but I’m a developer, we don’t make things easy :-).

In the mantra of not making things easy, I decided to make a Newsstand app and actually have a magazine on the App Store! Moreover, I wanted to learn how to publish Newsstand apps anyway.

It is something that I’ve always wanted to work on because it is a very interesting technology. A lot of print publications are packing up their print editions and moving to digital editions. I wanted to find out how to use the technology that is supposed to save the magazine industry.

The Newsstand category is also a separate one in the App store so you are not competing with tons of other apps out there. So why not take advantage of that?

How many downloads has Appville had?

Before I go ahead, let me talk about the download numbers and the results right now. I am sure you are interested in these numbers, so I won’t hold anything back. You will see all the screenshots from the best Analytics service out there on the Internetz, App Annie.

Number of Downloads

Up until now, Appville has had got over 12000 downloads and I am really happy about that. In the graph below, you will see a lot of peaks. These peaks actually coincide with when I have done some marketing.

I will go more in depth into the marketing later and then explain to you what I did to get the word out.

Where Does Appville Rank?

Appville has been ranking in the top 50 apps in the Computers and Internet category in Newsstand. It hasn’t done so well in the total Newsstand category but in there I am competing with the likes of Vogue, GQ and Newsweek so I have my work cut out for me.

How Many Reviews Has It Had?

Appville also has 81 reviews at the moment. A majority of them are 5 stars and I thank you if you are one of the people that left a review.

We need more though so please click here to go the App store and leave a review. Thanks, I will appreciate it.

The Technology

Appville, as you know by now, is built off of the Newsstand platform and it’s kind of a complicated platform to develop on. It has its complicated things you have to deal with like issue management, background downloading, auto-renewing subscriptions.

The most frustrating part is the submission process. It can be quite annoying the first time you do it.

These are the issues you can expect to encounter when developing Newsstand apps but for the same reasons, it is really a good platform. For example, no other app category can have background downloads. You also have the advantage of auto-renewing subscriptions.

Appville app is free right now but in essence it could have people paying $1.99 a month to subscribe. This actually is a game changer when it comes to revenue models for your app.

The technology platform which I use to display the magazines pages is called the Baker framework. I love the platform. When you get a hang of it, it is really easy to use.

I could have gone with the other platforms like the Urban Airship Newsstand publishing platform, Adobe Publishing platform, MagCast or MagPlus, but I decided to use the Baker framework because first of all, it’s free and then it allows you to have your issues as HTML files instead of PDFs. The flexibility was important for me. It’s as easy as publishing web pages (well-designed web pages) and having those in a magazine format.

The Design

I practice what I preach, so of course I was going to use a Vault template for Appville. The app’s frame that holds the list of issues was designed using the Gridlocked design template.

Gridlocked was originally designed for a shopping or fashion app. But, like all the other templates on App Design Vault, you are only limited by your imagination. I decided it would be a good idea to adapt it for the Appville app.

The next thing I had to do was design the pages for the magazine. I decided to go look for HTML magazine template. I could have had our in-house designer design some pages for it but I decided to practice what I preach again.

I went to GraphicRiver and I got some magazine design templates from the site. The templates on Graphic River are done in Photoshop or Adobe InDesign.
I needed HTML files though so I hired a freelancer on Odesk.com to convert the InDesign files to HTML/CSS that I could use for the app.

So now I was able to create a magazine content using the HTML files. All I had to do was substitute my content into the HTML file.

How Issues Are Managed in the Magazine

The Baker framework gives you a framework to display pages for one magazine issue. But when you have more than one issue, you have to roll your own issue management.

I had to learn how to create Newsstand apps with subscriptions, how to get users to subscribe to the magazine. For that, I found a couple of tutorials useful. What got me started was the Newsstand chapter in the iOS 5 By Tutorials book by Ray Wenderlich and the tutorial team.

The second one is a tutorial written a while back but is still very relevant today. How to Create Newsstand Apps By Viggiosoft.

These really helped me a lot to get up and running with Newsstand subscriptions.

Marketing Strategies And Tips

For the marketing, I followed a three-pronged approach. Having Contributors promoting the app, informing App Design Vault subscribers and contacting a couple of friends and acquiantances in the iOS development space

Contributors Promoting the App

The first one is having contributors to the magazine. I kind of built marketing into the product in the sense that I’m inviting people with audiences to come out and contribute content to the magazine. In the first issue, I had David Barnard on who has a blog at AppCubby.com and is very active on Twitter.

When contributors share the magazine with their audiences, they will naturally come and download the app to get the content. Interviewing friends and experts in the iOS world, and then in-turn having them promote their interview, is the first tactic I used in spreading the word about the app

App Design Vault Subscribers

I had 5000 people subscribed to App Design Vault’s newsletter and I had been teasing about the app for a while on the newsletter. I wrote a series of four email messages explaining the content that was going to be in the first issue. These were not just promotional emails but content-filled
emails with a lot of value.

But I also left open loops and was always teasing about the content that was in the magazine. To close these loops and get the full picture, you had to get the magazine.

I sent those emails to everybody on the list and about 2000 people actually clicked on the link to see the app. This contributed to the c.a 800 downloads Appville got on launch day.

Pitching Influencers in the Industry

If you take a look at the graph below you will see three peaks in the download count. The first peak was on launch day and I have already explained how I got those downloads.

The 3rd and 4th peaks (will explain the second later) came from a couple of mentions in email newsletters. I sent an email to Dave Verwer who runs the iOS Dev Weekly Newsletter explaining what the app was about and asked if he could include it in the next issue. He agreed.

The mention of Appville in the iOS Dev Weekly was the reason behind the third peak.

I also pitched Ray Wenderlich who runs an amazing site on iOS tutorials and asked if he could include a link to the app in his monthly newsletter. He did include it and that accounts for the fourth peak you see in the graph above.

I haven’t pitched large blogs and review sites yet. I still plan to do this but frankly I have been too busy (or lazy) doing other stuff for App Design Vault. But from the results above, you can already see that you don’t need to include the major blogs and publications to get a reasonable amount of traction for your app. A good strategy is to contact people with audiences that your app targets. In my case, I contacted people that have iOS developers as their audience.

Mistakes and Failures: Things to learn from

Ignoring iPhone Users

One mistake I made was that I did not release an iPhone version from the get go. When I released the app and I sent that email to the App Design Vault subscribers, a lot of people were asking me if there was an iPhone version. I assumed a lot of people had iPads and would want to read the magazine on the iPad.

I could have easily made a universal app and used a responsive HTML template for the magazine’s pages. I did release an iPhone version later on October 17th and you will see that there was a spike when the iPhone version was released. Up until now, about half of all downloads of the Appville magazine have come from the iPhone. So with over 12000 downloads at the time, this means I would have lost 6000 users by not having an iPhone version a this time.

Underwhelming Virality

I included the Socialize plugin which was meant to generate some viral sharing on Twitter, or maybe some comments, but that hasn’t really worked well for some reason. I think the reason is because it’s kind of hidden down at the bottom of the app when you tap on it and it’s not initially visible when you open the app. I have to work more on that and find out how I can generate some more viral sharing of the content.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

That is all I am able to share about the journey of developing and launching Appville. My advice is if you have an idea, go for it. I mean there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Just make sure that you just don’t think about the development of the app. The fun part for you maybe having elegant code.
But also be sure to also plan your marketing before you even start.

You should always make sure that your app is solving a problem. If your app is solving a problem, your marketing would definitely be easier because it is easy to tell a story and convince others to spread the word. So if possible, integrate your marketing into the app as I did, and then find a way
to get people to share information about your app.

1 comment

  1. Wojciech Szywalski

    Hello Tope,
    Fantastic case study. I think that lots of publishers will find it extremely valuable. So thank you for disclosing your data. I am sure it’s been quite huge job to bring everything into one legible article. Do not you mind that I’ve quoted your view in my recently published blog post about what makes magazine apps popular http://blog.presspadapp.com/how-to-get-your-digital-magazine-app-featured-on-the-app-store/ where I review our best selling magazines and I am deliberating main factors responsible for their success.

    Cheers