How Would You Like To Be An Indy App Publisher?

Indy App Publisher – That’s What Now?

Every software developer has worked on projects that are just plain dumb, have a terrible manager or are lacking in a hundred different ways. They know that they could do it better if they just could do X, Y or Z. Some programmers get so fed up that they just have to make the great leap and do their own thing. They become Indy App Publishers.

Successful indy app publishers know that they can make software better than the big guys. They believe that their code is better, they can respond to customers sooner and deliver an overall superior experience. They are very passionate about software.

If this sounds like you then read on to find out how to become an indy app publisher.

What Do You Need?

A great place to start is with iOS app development. iOS is used to make iPhone and iPad apps. It is simple to make stunning apps with the tools that Apple provides to it’s registered developers.

Here is some things that you will need to start developing apps:

  • Mac ($600-$2000)
  • Apple Developer Registration ($99 per year)
  • XCode (free)
  • Website and support email ($10 per month)
  • Objective-C, Cocoa-Touch and UIKit proficiency

I’m assuming that you yourself will be the developer which is generally how indy app publishers work. You may instead be working with someone who has the equipment and skills above.

As you can probably guess though when you are on your own as a indy app publisher you are not going to be just dealing with code. You will need to start thinking of what you do as a business (meaning you gotta pay the bills with this).

A Few More Things:

  • Design (apps need to look pretty to sell)
  • Marketing (code doesn’t sell itself)

Design is very important for iOS apps, I would recommend hiring someone to make your app’s icon graphic at least since this stands out on the App Store. I’ve used 99Designs to get some compelling iOS app icons (see my Tasting Notes app icon as an example). That design cost me about $600.

Marketing your app will prove to be a big challenge as well and this is something that is pretty hard to hire people for (except for any specific tasks you may dream up). Here you will need a mobile specific strategy. This stuff takes time and I would recommend learning a bit about marketing for apps.

The Great Cash Flow Question

Everyone hears the success stories like Angry Birds (1 million + $$$ in sales) and most of the apps that you see in the top charts are like this. Everyone wants to be there but hoping to get one of those top 25 spots in the app marketplace of 300,000+ apps is sort of like planning on winning the lottery.

So even though you want to shoot for the top you should know how much apps make on average to get an idea of how to plan for your business. Most of the estimates that I’ve seen indicate that apps will make about $5000 in the first year. Estimates are as low as $700 and as high as $10,000 for the first year of revenue for iOS apps.

My own figures substantiate these averages: my apps averaged $6,600 each for the first year. The second year would bring lower revenue which averaged around $2,000 or so.

Tasting Notes Revenue Case Study

Tasting Notes is my flagship app and it’s a good example of what I think of as a moderate success. Tasting Notes took two months to develop and it spent some time at the top of the Lifestyle category. Here is Tasting Notes’ revenue:

12/1/2008 – 3/1/2009 $4,565
3/2/2009 – 12/31/2009 $4,813
First Year Total $9,378
2010 $3,747
Overall Total $13,125


Most of Tasting Notes income was generated in the first three months and by 2010 this app leveled off with an average monthly revenue of $300 which it maintains today.

The Good

iOS apps are easy to make and you don’t need to worry about the details of selling apps since the App Store provides all the infrastructure. iOS is a great place to start because the barrier to entry is so low.

The Bad

If you look closely at my revenue figures you’ll realize that you will need to either make lots of apps to stay afloat or you will need to have a backend product to be profitable. Unless of course you become a breakout success!

The Ugly

Indy app publishing is not a get rich quick scheme – this is real business. However, for developers who find themselves yearning to reach a passionate, international audience iOS is the quickest and most fun way to become an indy app publisher.


Matt Campbell has been an iOS app developer since the Apple App Store launched in 2008. These days he travels teaching iOS development to people all over the real world and the virtual world. Matt’s passionate about sharing the excitement of creating online businesses with beautiful software. You can find out more about Matt and how to make iPhone apps at


  1. We’d love to have Matt do more posts about iphone apps, do you guys have any other suggestions on posts you would want Matt to write about? OR, of course, any questions on this post?

  2. Thanks for demystifying the income potential of iOS apps. A post I’d like to see is on successful marketing techniques for iOS apps.

  3. Good material. I’m an Android developer (so very different rules apply in regards to marketing and distribution), but I appreciate the information on initial investment vs. earnings potential.

    It’s difficult to make a big initial investment not knowing what the income might be, but failing to make a large enough investment will limit how much the app will make! I’m still working on the optimal balance.

    • @ProjectJourneyman – Thanks for the comment! Do you think that ads or paid apps work better for Android?

      • I have personally gotten better revenue from the paid app sales, with sales driven in part through a free ad-based app. I haven’t tried just releasing a paid app with no counterpart, nor have I tried releasing an ad-free free app to promote a paid app.

        Other app types, such as games, would likely generate more revenue from ads due to longer use time. I think there are a lot of variables.

  4. I also appreciate the honest figures and assessment about iPhone app development. Every idea I have come up with so far has been something that has already been developed. I would like to see a post on how to choose projects and how to market them.

    • Is there a way for App ideamen and coders to get together? I have lots of good ideas for technical apps for electricians. But I am at least a couple years from being able to write the App myself. But I could do design, artwork, marketing, etc.

    • @Keith – my advice would be to not worry too much about whether you idea is new or not. My favorite app right now is called TweetBot. It’s just a Twitter client and Twitter clients have been done a million times.

      I love TweetBot not because it’s an original app but because they did such a great job on it.

      With mobile apps ideas are cheap and almost everything has been done. The key is execution execution execution. All you need to do is make a better app.

  5. A nice, honest breakdown of the reality of the app marketplace.I would also like to see a post on basic marketing. Especially the art of pricing apps in the current climate where customers are expecting a lot for little $$.

    • @Liam – I find with iOS app marketing sticking to the basics is everything. What I mean is that you have to make sure that the stuff that you control is done right:

      – the app must be great and pretty
      – app store assets must sell your app (icon, description, screenshots, price, name)

      There are some other ninja moves but you could have a whole post, blog or course about this huge topic.

  6. Pamela says:

    What about the cost of the iPhone for the actual testing?

    This is where I cannot move forward.

    As I have discovered, the simulator isn’t the same as the phone itself. And yes, I’ve looked into using the iPod Touch but it also lacks features.

    There seems to be no pay-as-you-go iPhone service — a contract is too expensive. I don’t know anyone who has one of these phones to borrow either.

    Have anyone found a solution to this issue or has ideas to offer?

    • @Pamela – you don’t technically need to buy an iPhone but you should test your apps out on an iOS device first. You could just buy an iPad or iPod touch to avoid the monthly charges.

      For me, it’s an investment and business expense and I rather buy the hardware so I can move ahead quickly.

  7. Great article Matt.I think your numbers are pretty accurate for apps that heaven’t been picked up by Gruber or discussed on TWIT. Which is what happens to most indie developers.

    I myself am more interested in your experience with App Mastery. I tend to go back to the Gold Rush analogy. It wasn’t the miners that got rich but rather those who sold to them.

    • @Keith – Mobile App Mastery is doing great. I get to work with the people I like the most (developers) and it’s allowed me to travel much more than normal for me.

      In terms of business, I just followed Jay and Sterling’s playbook when I set up Mobile App Mastery and it worked out great. MAM is generating a monthly “passive” income and I get pretty lucrative training gigs. Basically, MAM has replaced my old developer’s salary.