Do You Really Need the App Store?

Aug 02, 2013

Article ImageMobile apps bring content straight to your pocket. The convenience is unparalleled, but there may be one part of the app chain you haven't thought about much: the buying process. Chances are you just go to the Apple App Store or Amazon App Marketplace and never think about it, but if you're a content provider, some experts think you should be putting a little more thought into distribution.

"A content provider has a choice. It can build its content into a native app and sell it through Apple for iPhone or iPad, or an Android store like Google Play. Or the provider can build their content in HTML or an Android app, and either way sell it using their own commerce platform just like millions of physical products are sold on e-commerce sites, and deliver it as an Android app to a web browser on any device," says Cliff Conneighton, VP at hybris. "In the app store model, the provider must typically give the app store 30% of revenue, and gets no information about who bought their product. In the commerce platform model, the content provider gets 100% of the revenue and has total flexibility and total control of all information."

But selling apps through your own site presents challenges of its own. Not least among them is getting the word out. Having a central repository, like the App Store, makes it easy for people tosearch and ultimately find what they're looking for. But Conneighton disagrees.

"I argue that the large app stores have become very inconvenient for users. Google's and Apple's stores each have over 1 million apps available. Finding what you want is not convenient," he says. "Is it easier to download an app or to just click on a URL and get the content immediately? And if you have a strong brand that users seek, like TIME or Good Housekeeping... it is much easier for users to find all your content and related brands on a website that the brand controls than on an app store next to 1 million titles they don't care about."

That's all well and good if you're TIME, but for smaller players, visibility is key. But Conneighton would argue that the benefits of moving to an owned e-commerce platform outweigh the drawbacks. "One of the great things about digital content is that it is alive -- the content provider can not only know who bought the content, they also can know what they are reading and what they skip, and can make relevant offers in context. "Liked this article on St. Martin? Click here to buy our 'Guide to the Caribbean.' 'We see you only read the gardening articles in our home magazine. Click here for more information on our archive or gardening articles.' You can only build this kind of relationship if you own the real time digital customer information -- and the big app stores won't let you do that."

Many content providers have already moved to HTML5, web-based apps to get out from under the thumb of the app stores. Famously, The Financial Times moved its content to a web app after Apple tightened its rules for in-app purchases. While there are plenty of pros and cons to be weighed before shunning the app marketplaces, it may be time to take stock of your app priorities and consider if a new approach is right for you?

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)