Birding Apps – Part 2. How to Price an App

There were a lot of theories flying around the Mitch Waite Group about why Winged Explorer (WE) failed. Most of us thought the $99 price was too high. Others felt the Windows platform for mobile phones was at the end of its life. After seeing the iPhone it was hard to disagree that the future of Windows Mobile, with its poke with a style interface, was over. But I honestly wasn’t sure what to do about pricing. Clearly people liked the idea of a bird field guide they could carry on their phone, were sick of carrying large books around with them and loved the idea of playing bird songs in the field. Still I was exhausted from the 18 months we had spent working on WE and wanted to throw the towel in. But there were the emails. Dozens of them all saying the same thing: “Love the WE demo but do you have it for the iPhone?” Someone once said the wise businessman goes were the market leads him, and these emails seemed evidence we had the right product on the wrong platform. So I found a good iPhone app developer in September and by December of 2008 and we had the app ready to go into the iPhone app store.

But how to price it? Prevailing wisdom around the water cooler was 99 cents because that was what most apps cost on the iPhone. My thoughts were there were not enough birders with iPhones to make any profit at that sales price. And when you think about it iBird had the equivalent of 14 field guides, which if they were books would be valued around $280 ($20 per book). With birders used to spending $15 to $40 on bird guides I went with $19.99 for the price of iBird Plus. People around the office thought I was nuts.

Flying Below the Radar
For the first few months iBird sold modestly, better than Winged Explorer, but nothing to brag about. Somehow the word needed to get out that you could use your phone as a field guide or we would fly forever below the radar.

Hitting the Proverbial Bulls Eye
Around March of 2009 Apple released a series of television commercials for the iPhone that showed off the various apps. One of them was called “Itchy“. It showed 5 seconds of iBird Plus playing the song of a Red-faced Warbler and a finger taping its icon. Within a few days the sales of iBird went through the roof. The 5 star reviews people left in the store made it very clear $19.99 was a bargain. I finally had a winner. Or so I thought.

Prices are Elastic
There were some however who felt $19.99 was too expensive. They told us in emails they did not travel much and wondered if we could sell a version of iBird that just had the birds in their state at a lower the price? Managing 50 apps, one for each of the states, would have been a nightmare. The answer was five regional versions of iBird: North, South, West, Midwest and Canada for $9.99 each. Once these came out their sales was not as high as Plus but the profit totally justified the effort. So now we had 6 versions of iBird for the iPhone. Was that enough?

 Tune in tomorrow to learn when its time to stop.

One thought on “Birding Apps – Part 2. How to Price an App

  1. How much is the popularity of iBird a result of Apple using it in the commercial? I’d like to hear the entire story of how you managed to get Apple to include iBird.

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