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Amazon Free Apps start to rile developers

Free, as in no revenue kicked back

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Amazon app store isn't following its promise to kick back at least a fifth of the asking price, unilaterally deciding that free promotion is worth more than cash in developers' pockets.

Amazon has been asking developers to forsake revenue for a day in exchange for home-page promotion, and demanding they don't discuss that detail with anyone. But one developer has opened up on how that impacted their product, showing that Amazon's promotion cost it a good deal more than it gained.

Shifty Jelly, developer of Pocket Casts, received a note from Amazon offering the chance to be listed as "Free App of the Day", a hugely popular feature of the store. But despite Amazon's original promise that developer would always receive 20 per cent of their asking price, the note explicitly stated that no revenue would be received for downloads on the day in question.

Unlike the Google Marketplace, Amazon's store sets the price at which applications are sold, and gives developers 70 per cent of that price. Developers do provide a "list" price and Amazon said that it would hand over, at minimum, 20 per cent of that price – a statement temporarily rescinded by this offer.

The developer asked for, and received, clarification that despite the original statement they would receive nothing for copies Amazon gave away, and were told that they'd have to agree to waive their cut, or not take part in the promotion.

After some thought, Shifty Jelly decided to give it a go, convinced by the promise of two weeks' prominent listing, but despite "selling" more than 100,000 copies on the free day, the sales quickly dropped to 20 the following day, 14 the day after, and then down to the usual one or two a day thereafter.

Those 100,00 people also expected email support (300 mails a day, according to the company blog), and needed additional server hardware to handle the clients. So Shifty Jelly lost out badly for the sake of 30 or so additional sales.

The company isn't claiming to have been cheated as such – it accepts that it made a bad decision – but it wants to share the knowledge and help others to whom Amazon makes the same offer.

It has also decided to sever its relationship with the Amazon store, and recently tweeted that it had now been told the app can't be removed unless it was also taken down from the Google Marketplace, though we've not been able to confirm that with Amazon.

Some products obviously gain from the free exposure – Amazon points out the Angry Birds was launched that way – but (on Android) Angry Birds is an advertising-supported app, so the developer lost nothing by agreeing to Amazon's terms.

Other developers might like to think hard before accepting Amazon's offer of a revenue/exposure swap.

Amazon UK was unable to comment on this story. ®

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