From the time we launched Pollen VC in 2014, we’ve talked to numerous independent mobile developers, in several countries, who were publishing apps and games in the global app stores. We quickly discovered a new breed of independent developers – from two-person start-ups to well-established studios -who published apps and games in the App Store and Google Play, and were actually doing pretty well in terms of revenues and traction, even though their apps might not be household names, or even listed in the top rankings of the app stores.
We decided to investigate the size of this apparent app developer “middle class” and worked with our friends at Priori Data, a mobile app store intelligence company, to take a deeper dive into the data produced by the app stores themselves. Through the joint project, we revealed some interesting figures, which contest some of the popular reports on the state of the app developer economy.
MYTH: ONLY A TINY FEW MAKE MILLION DOLLAR APPS
Over the last few months we have informally canvassed many well known figures in the app world, asking “How many developers do you think make a million dollars a year?” Typically the answers ranged from 100 to 1,000 developers hitting this number.
Based on their app store revenue estimates for Q2 2015, Priori Data predicted 1887 unique app developers would each earn over US $1 million from either the iTunes App Store and Google Play. (132 of those developers would make more than $1M from both platforms separately.
Since taking this snapshot, we can see the actual figure is continuing to grow : Priori’s research also indicated that there were 207 new entrants to the “Millionaire’s Index” of combined iTunes and Google Play app publishers in Q2 2015 alone. As you might expect, 78% of app store millionaires were producing games.
Of course, this is an approximation using revenue estimates – taking into account some inconsistencies in how publishers identify themselves in either app store – but it does indicate that the number of app store millionaires is still expanding.
MYTH: ALL THE REVENUES ARE MADE BY THE GUYS AT THE TOP
While it’s undeniable that just over half (55%) of revenues (from iTunes App Store and Google Play combined) are generated by Top 100 ranked publishers, 45% of revenue – which will total US $2.3 Billion in 2015 from paid and IAP alone – will be made by apps ranked outside the Top 100.
At first glance, it may appear that the top ranking publishers remains static month on month, with the likes of Supercell, Tencent, Zynga, King and Glu almost household brands now.
However, Priori revealed that over the period of our research the Top 200 had in fact changed significantly. During Q2 2015, there were actually 63,000 iOS publishers and 36,000 Android publishers with an app reaching the top 200 grossing ranks.
While reaching a high-ranking chart position, perhaps due to an app store Featured or great launch press, is attainable to many, holding on to the position is much more difficult – something we covered in our blog last year.
MYTH: EVERYONE ELSE IS BELOW THE APP POVERTY LINE
Using the same data set as for the millionaires, we took a snapshot of the numbers of developers who would generate more than US $6,000 in 2015 – or US $500 per month, which is the figure denoted as the “App Poverty line” by Vision Mobile at the beginning of 2015. We found a total of 45161 who would achieve $6000 in revenues this year.
The following graph breaks down the numbers of developers who will earn between $10,000 and $1 Million in 2015.
We found that in total, more than 20,000 developers will bring in over US $100,000. Of course, the significance of this revenue entirely depends on each individual app publisher; as this doesn’t take into account their overheads.
No one can deny that the App Economy is growing exponentially year on year, predicted to be worth $143Bn by 2016. But the common assumption amongst industry commentators is that outside of the top 50 studios, the majority of indie app developers make practically nothing, hardly surviving below the “App Poverty Line”, is not as simple as first glance. Our findings with Priori Data indicate that beyond the top rankings, there is a long tail of successful app developers who are thriving.
Our future research will return to see how the picture changes over time. We’ll talk to app developers who have made their million, and find out how they did it. Don’t forget to follow@PollenVC and @Prioridata, and sign up to our newsletter to receive all the updates and tips for app store success.