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.
We got this review for iBird North in the app store today:
5 stars on Jul 12, 2011
I have been using this app for for over two years now and couldn’t be happier! My friends are so impressed how I can ID so many birds just by their calls! My recognition ability has improved ten fold! One suggestion though that would improve this app to the point of astonishment would be audio recognition. Simply point the phone in the direction of a call and the app would ID the bird based on the call (just like “sound hound”). That would be amazing! Thanks for everything!!
Even with all the exclamation points its an awesome review. But the part about audio recognition got me to wondering how many other birders would like such a feature? And do you think it would be hard to program into an iPhone?
I’m often asked what is the best birding app to get? The question was easy to answer in 2008 when there was just one app for the iPhone. Today typing “bird apps” into the Google search box will get over 41,000,000 hits. Typing “bird” into the Apple App Store and you’ll get hundreds of results. Does the world really need so many apps for birding? Are there that many birders and do they really care?
The answer to both questions is yes. Recent figures put the size of the birding industry at over $68 billion. This includes travel, optics, camping equipment, books and yes, birding apps. The number of people interested enough in birds to call it a hobby is in the millions.
With so much money being spent would you think the price of an app matters to birders? Let me tell you about the background of our app and how arriving at its price was such a challenge. This little history should be of interest to not just birders but any company that develops apps for smart phones or tablets.
Are 5,000 Apps Too Many?
When we launched iBird in December of 2008 the iPhone had only opened the gates to app developers for 6 months. In that short time there was rumored to be around 5,000 apps in the Apple app store. The majority of these were either free or sold for 99 cents. I was coming off a depressing experience of having launched our first birding app, Winged Explorer (WE) for the Windows Mobile platform, the dominant player in 2008, at $99. It launched in July of 2008 and a month later its sales were dismal. I was ready to give up.
Tune in tomorrow to learn how to price an app.
I’m happy to welcome you to our new iBird Blog. The idea for this blog came out of my frustration. Let me explain. First in case you’ve been sleeping under a rock (some birders I know actually sleep in what I bet you would agree is a cave) a “blog” is a way for a blogger (that would be me in this case) to write about stuff, publish it on the web, and have people leave comments about that stuff. So maybe now you can guess my frustration came from not having a good way to talk with our iBird customers. Its my hope this blog will allow me to communicate all kinds of interesting topics about iBird including:
- Cool things we are working on for future updates to iBird
- Answers important to all iBird customers
- New technology in birding, what I call “naturetech”
- The best places to bird, the best birding books to read, etc.
- What to do if you get a ticket for J-walking
Okay that last bullet was not serious but I want to make sure you are reading this, otherwise what’s the point?
I’ll publish this message to the blog and ask you all to leave comments. To give some direction to the comments, here are some of the things I would like to hear from you:
- Is this blog a good idea?
- What would you like me to post on the blog?
- What do you love and hate about iBird (when I say hate I mean it tongue in cheek; I will delete hate mail but I do want to know what you don’t like as well as what you do like.)
Thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully leave some thoughts.
Publisher, Mitch Waite Group