Making Apps, But Not Making Money

The couple aimed for one new app a month, but progress was slow and sales were slower. In March, with the apps bringing in only about $20 a day, they cashed in Mr. Grimes’s 401(k), which yielded $30,000 after taxes and penalties. They had already spent the severance from his job at Legg Mason.

One thing they never scrimped on was technology, especially Apple technology. At one point they owned a 24-inch iMac, a Mac Mini, a 24-inch cinema display screen, two 13-inch MacBook Airs, a 15-inch MacBook Pro, two iPad 2s, two Apple TVs, two iPhone 4s and an iPhone 3GS. “We justify buying new models by saying we need them to test out the apps,” Mr. Grimes said.

In the latest report for the Times’s iEconomy series, David Streitfeld looks at how difficult it is for app developers to earn a living as freelancers. One couple, Shawn and Stephanie Grimes, lost $200,000 in income and savings after Shawn lost his job and the couple decided to launch their own app business, which earned them a total of just $4,964 this year.

I’ve worked at a few startups, and know developers who tried (unsuccessfully) to build and sell apps on the side. One friend was on the verge of losing his job until he worked on an app that suddenly took off and sold brilliantly. The app was called “Draw Something.”


6 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)

Well, from what I gather, making apps ia pretty much a crapshoot. You never know what will sell, and people who have successful ones basically lucked out. It also helps to get featured by Apple, but they are also in complete control of what gets featured. I think the only way you can really make money making apps is if you’re making them for a specific company. Like, if a magazine came to you and was like, “Here is some money, make us an app.”

@Megano! So true. App consulting has become the late 90’s web design consultancy.

My granddad wrote “app(lication)s” in the 1960s. There is nothing new or special about independently developing software for sale except that Apple have created a model whereby idealistic and possibly misguided individuals shoulder all of the risk and Apple gets a guaranteed cut of the reward. Plus the tens of thousands of dollars these people spend on Apple gear. (Imagine if they posted this “job” on Craigslist: “Come work as a programmer for Apple! No salary, no office, no insurance. Must buy own computer.”)

Why someone with no software development experience would think they could make it in this field is beyond me — I guess it’s just like lawyers who quit their jobs to become farmers.

questingbeast (#2,409)

This seems about as sensible as quitting your job because you think you’re going to write the ‘next Harry Potter’, but you’ve never had anything published and haven’t started writing it yet.

deepomega (#22)

The road to bankruptcy is paved by “How hard can it be!”

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