Pros and Cons of the Mac App Store


The following I decided to cut from the update to my book, Make Money Outside the Mac App Store. I came up with a list of arguments that you can apply to your business model and app if you haven’t decided if you want to embrace or ditch the Mac App Store.

Remember you can always sell on multiple e-commerce platforms for higher flexibility and to reduce the risk of one provider going down, or the App Store (accidentally) locking your account!

So if you consider whether to release a macOS app outside the Mac App Store, there are various factors to weigh carefully. Let’s have a look at some important points real quick, and also consider upsides of the Mac App Store with honesty, to evaluate the reasons before we dive into the implementation.

You will earn more per sale. Most online store fronts will take a cut between 6 and 10% only, as opposed to the 30% Apple takes after taxes. Say you sell an app for €9.99 to a German customer. After a 19% VAT (value-added tax) reduction of €1.90, Apple takes 30% of the remaining €8.09 and you’ll earn a depressing €5.66 – whereas the same app sold via FastSpring would leave you with €8.14 after the flat 8.9% order fee.

Two companies left the App Store in 2016 and shared their numbers.1 They report a slight decline in units sold but a growth in total revenue because of Apple’s absurd 30% commission.

You are not affected by paid search ads. The iOS App Store ranks paid search ads for keywords higher than apps of the same name. Imagine searching for the app “Uber”, and the first result is the competitor, Lyft, and vice-versa. I understand why Google sells ad space in their search results. That’s their business. But your affiliation with Apple is different and should be treated differently.

You can issue discounts. Student discounts, bulk sale discounts, non-profit discounts, time-limited price drops, bundle sales – you name it, the Mac App Store doesn’t have it.

You can also issue what Craig Scott of toketaWare calls “good will discounts.” There are people who’ll pay for your product as long as they think it’s a good deal. If there are people who are angry because they think your product is too expensive: give them a few percent off to convert them to paying customers instead of arguing about the value you provide.

The surprise can be very effective: “Quite often your angriest customer can be ‘turned’ into your most vociferous advocate,” Craig says. “I don’t like ‘giving grease to the squeaky wheel’ but it does work!” This is a great lesson: don’t be angry when people treat you harshly. Surprise them with a small token of appreciation. Their negative emotions will transform for the better and you may even convert them into loyal fans.

You can develop pro features. You won’t be be hampered by the severe Sandboxing restrictions that prevent some productivity apps to even pass the review. Think Timing 2, Little Snitch, or my own WordCounter. The App Store will impose strict limitations, like not having access to assistive devices, observing keyboard inputs, or registering audio drivers.

You fully control the update process. You can publish updates more often and react to bugs quicker. When you release an update, it’s live immediately. And you can provide quick fixes after you discover a problem.

You can add copy protection to you app. No security measure is 100% perfect and it doesn’t pay off to invest too much time in securing your application against cracking, but still: stuff you buy on the Mac App Store may not even secured against copying with simple Apple-ID authorization. With your own store, you can add different kinds of security, from offline license code verification to requiring the app to verify license validity with your servers.

You will know your customers and get in touch with them. This saved my back in the past when my app wouldn’t update automatically and I wanted to tell my customers how to get the latest version. I could just email them and apologize. Same holds true for special offers or upselling existing customers. Also, people occasionally get in touch and tell you how amazing the app is in response to your automated order confirmation mails. The best thing the Mac App Store offers is customer reviews. When some people encounter problems, they try to communicate by lowering their review score, like a 1-star review with the text “Amazing app, would be 5 stars again if the following bug was fixed: …” – since low review scores ultimately hurt sales numbers, this is a very bad solution to be stuck with.

You can tailor B2B offers. Business-to-business offers can be as simple as bulk license discounts. Or you can create more elaborate schemes, like annual subscriptions for the whole company with free updates through a special channel and online seat verification. This might be interesting if you want to go beyond selling apps, like creating a service-based business.

Different audiences have different requirements. Businesses will benefit from multi-seat licenses and proper invoices. To purchase on the App Store is too cumbersome for professionals and businesses. Philip Goward, founder of Smile, calls the Mac App Store a “warehouse.” If you consider your application to be a commodity, a warehouse is the right place to put it. But if you build software for professionals with “pro-pricing” (say $100 or above), the oft-cited benefit of easy discoverability on the Mac App Store is miniscule. Having full control over sales and customer service becomes more important once you have build an audience for your product.

Upsides of the Mac App Store to Consider

Selling on the Mac App Store offers benefits for you, too, which you shouldn’t carelessly dismiss:

Apple’s App Store is a very important marketplace. People discover new things there. They trust Apple, and some may not even know that they can downloads apps outside the App Store. So an App Store presence can make sense to maximize mainstream availability. It’s a place where some are said to “go shopping.” – I can hardly imagine how that works in practice. I think iOS as a platform with its plethora of free apps and the rapidly rotating roster of featured apps is more interesting for bored virtual window-shoppers.

Updating your apps is simple for you and your users. Publishing an update means to upload a binary to the App Store Connect web service. After it passes the review process (which used to take a week but is down to about 1 day, see, people can download the new version from one central place, the App Store. When updates download automatically, users will always have the latest version. Also, all their apps can be updated at once. Outside the App Store, each app is responsible for its own update process and will likely show an “Update Available” dialog, which may or may not annoy users

Apple provides all the infrastructure. You do not have to worry about your web server serving downloads reliably and fast around the world. Payments are processed by Apple. Updates are distributed by Apple. The App Store is a place for the app description, screenshots, and promotional video – this could, in some cases, make crafting a landing page or full-blown website obsolete.

In a Nutshell

Distributing via the App Store is convenient. Everyone can see your product and download and update from one central place. This may be less important for “pro” apps and more important for mainstream tools or games. Your Grandmother can comfortably download apps from the App Store once you set up Family Sharing, but she would not jump through the hoops of entering Credit Card information in an online store.

On the flip side, you lose more money with each transaction, you’re bound to the strict App Store Sandboxing policies, you cannot create special offers – and if Apple disables your account, your business is effectively closed. This doesn’t happen often, but it can happen, as we’ll discuss in a sidebar in a later chapter.

Not certain what to do now? Even though App Store-bashing seems to be quite popular, it’s not obvious what developers really think and do. Are they all talk and no action, complaining about the App Store without skin in the game?

The actual effect on your business is hard to tell in advance. Try the process of distributing via the App Store and outside of it for yourself and see how your own particular sales are affected. Does distribution outside the Mac App Store help or hamper business? Your results may depend on many variables, so take careful steps.

Remember you can always do both: distribute via the Mac App Store and on your own platform. Indies seem to take a hybrid approach by default to target different audiences. I tried a hybrid approach myself in 2019 with my plain-text CSV and Markdown table editor app TableFlip without telling anyone. I sold the app for about 2 years on my own platform, then experimented with a release on the App Store. To my surprise, people found and bought the app on the App Store on day one. I can only assume these purchases are the result of organic searches on the store.

Think I missed something? Reach out via email or leave a comment below!

See also:

  1. Rogue Amoeba published “Making More Outside The App Store” in February 2017; Kapeli published 100 Days Without the App Store in late January 2017.