Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, has got it right: ditch the free app. There are so many factors involved from a business and development standpoint that it’s clear maintaining two products only causes more problems.
In a post on his blog, Arment explains his decision not to bring back the free version of Instapaper, a popular app for both iPhone and iPad that allows a user to save web articles for offline viewing. Arment tells the tale of the app’s lifecycle, starting at $9.99 with a free version, dropping to $4.99 less than a year later, and then removing the free app completely. The free app was only available for the iPhone, while the iPad paid app represented half of his total earnings. But it wasn’t just this factor that led him to remove the free version.
The cost to maintain two builds and servers, the poor representation the free version gives to those interested in the app, and the low conversions are some of the points that stood out as wise to choose to abandon the free version. Not to mention, with anyone able to download the free version, anyone can leave a review, and with it being a less robust version of the app, negative reviews become common. While every app is different, Arment makes a strong argument for why this makes sense for anyone with a quality product:
I’m asking people who bought a $200-829 device (many of whom also pay monthly for data service) to take a $5 risk. People risk that much for a side-dish of mashed potatoes that might suck at a restaurant, or a tremendous milkshake at Starbucks that they’ll finish in 30 minutes, without much consideration. iPad and iPhone owners often risk $30-70 on a case that they might break, lose, or get bored with after a few months. In an Apple store, it’s nearly impossible to spend less than $30 on anything. Apple’s stance is clear: “This is how much our stuff costs. If you don’t like our prices, that’s fine. We don’t need everyone to buy our stuff.”
Read the rest of Arment’s argument here.