Are the App Stores Devaluing Your Organization’s Products?

Image of the App Store Icon My favorite handwriting curriculum company (Handwriting Without Tears) just released an app through the iTunes store. It’s called Wet Dry Try and it helps kids practice writing their upper case letters and numbers. The app is great. It responds nicely, it’s got a nice reward system and it teaches really great habits. The app costs $4.99.

What I find interesting are some of the comments about how expensive the app is. One person said $4.99 was really expensive and he wished the app did more. In my mind, the app is a bargain. I paid $4.99 for a Blue’s Clues book that my 2 year old and I will read a dozen times (okay, maybe more, he loves Blue’s Clues). I paid $15 for a workbook we’ll use for a couple of weeks. My lunch today was nearly $6! We’ll use this handwriting app for months and if it teaches my little one good writing habits, it will be worth 100 times the $4.99 I paid!

So I got to thinking. Most of the apps I see in the app store are free, $.99 or $1.99. So by comparison, the WetDryTry app at $4.99 seems expensive.

But if I were to sell a book or software program at a brick and mortar bookstore or even Amazon.com, $4.99 would seem like nothing.

So it’s all about context and comparison. This is what worries me about the app stores. When so many items are priced at $.99, how can my association clients possibly release publications and services at prices close to what they would charge in their normal stores?  Consider this: Keynote, Apple’s presentation software that competes with PowerPoint, is about $100 for the desktop version and $9.99 for the iPad version. Sure, the products do different things and I can’t do everything on the iPad version that I can in the desktop version. But the iPad version is feature-rich and amazing. Is Apple just trying to give Keynote away or are they making money on volume?

I’ve decided that most organizations are much better off with a free or promotional strategy.

  •  Organization should opt for “free” appss that promote or showcase the organization, the membership and the industry. Examples might include a Find a Member app, a Code of Ethics app, or an industry news app.
  • Organizations should create apps that complement an existing product or service. For example, an association might create an app for their annual conference that complements the live experience of attending the meeting.
  • Companies that sell products or services can use an app to promote their offerings. For example, a kitchen and bath remodeler could create an app that shows what’s possible with tiles, counters, backsplashes, etc.
  • In the case of a company like Handwriting Without Tears, an app can introduce the company to a larger consumer audience and hopefully encourage more sales of its teaching and practice materials. For example, even though I think it’s cool that my child can “write” on a tablet, I still want to be sure he can actually write on a piece of paper.

What about organizations that want to sell their publications through an app store? Today, I think they are better off selling an epub version through Amazon, or direct through their own stores.

Are the app stores devaluing products and services? I think the jury is still out but I recommend that organizations think twice before putting their core products and services into apps that could lower their perceived value or lower perceived customer/membership value. What do YOU think?