If you've got your hand on the pulse of the developer community here in the Android world, you've got some sense that a maker of games can get a lot more cash in their pocket by giving away a game for free (with ad coverage all over it) than they can selling the game without ads. This is due in part to the market that's developed in the Android world, one where it's much more likely that a game will be popular and stay popular if it costs the consumer no currency*. All that may be about to change with Rovio's announcement that Angry Birds: RIO will be released on Amazon's new Android app market exclusively.
I'll be grabbing the RIO Angry Birds game from Amazon. I have to. Not just because it's my job to keep up with the most popular mobile platform games and non-game apps, but because I'm completely addicted to Angry Birds. I've literally gotten in trouble with friends and relatives because I could not rip myself away from the screen to interact with them, real people. I've had this problem in the past, most notably with a MMORPG by the name of Diablo 2, but we're definitely aware of stories of this same thing happening with people who've never before found themselves so engrossed in a game.
That established, we've got a situation here where Rovio, the makers of Angry Birds, have a massive opportunity to utilize their position as a means to accomplish great things via cross-branding. This RIO game being released on Amazon is what I'd call a double-whammy, with the RIO collaboration placing them in the faces of millions of consumers around the world via the movie posters being released as you read this column, plus TV commercials, plus press coverage because it's a wild new oddity. A mobile platform game collaborating with a major motion picture - amazing! Then there's the collaboration with Amazon, a market that's quietly been populating itself with apps over the past few weeks, getting ready, it's quite obvious, for this one moment where a superstar will act a messiah for them, leading all of its followers to what they're positioning as the promised land for Android apps.
Amazon as Android's Zion
Another situation it's important to take note of is the trust people have in Google's checkout system. Although there's been millions of dollars in sales done in Android apps alone over the past few years, it's still quite clear that there is a big population of people in this mobile environment who don't quite trust the system Google has in place. I do. Lots of people I speak with do. I and we have no reason to distrust the checkout system Google works with - but you know who has basically a perfect handle on online sales? Amazon.
Once Amazon establishes themselves as a place where you can "securely" purchase apps with no problem, they'll dominate Android app sales. There is a hidden "if" in there, but if I was a betting man, you know I'd have my money on Amazon to rule the school in the next few years, if not the next few months following this Rovio wave generator. What they'll have to do to make their presence absolute as "Amazon, THE App Market" is to show people that it's not Google that makes the apps, it's the developers.
iTunes as Music's Babylon
Remember back before there was iTunes? Where did you buy your music? The record store? There was, indeed, a time between the decline of physical means of distributing music and the rise of Apple's iTunes model. Apple had an opportunity to turn itself, via iTunes, into an awesome marketplace where artists were given the majority of the cash made from the sales of their songs, but this did not happen. Instead of Apple taking the power that record companies had and still have and giving that power to the artists themselves, they just took a chunk of the cash and mindshare of the entire population of the world and keep it for themselves. This is not evil unless you consider taking the most lucrative position in this capitalistic model we've got here in our modern world evil. Apple now has massive clout in the music business, record companies still have either the most or the second most powerful position in the music business, and artists, for the most part, have the lowest rung, right next to the consumers. How does this relate to apps?
Developers in Power
What kind of world would we live in if there were only one step between consumers and the people who labor to create the products they consume? This is a rather heavy question, and one I'm definitely not going to be able to answer adequately in a single column. What about a world where creators of computer applications are able to create and distribute their own products, setting their own prices and making their own money, save for a fee to keep a singular marketplace open, one where the checkout system was to be trusted by the populace that would utilize it for all their app needs? Can Amazon accomplish such a feat? More importantly, first, is it even an option for them to provide a system where "Profit Share" isn't even a question? I'd have to speak with Amazon to be sure, I suppose.
Suggestions for the Future of Application Markets
Let me tell you, oh wise market masters whom I shall avert mine eyes from henceforth, where you can get your profits instead of from the potential pockets of developers. Advertisements in your market. Advertisements inside applications are a joke. It's well known that the average user clicks a mobile advertisement inside an app on accident much more often than they do on purpose. If I had one wish for those in a position to command a market for computer applications, I would have them take the majority of their research funds and pour them into research for better ways to have mobile advertising translate into mobile sales. A transition from businesses paying for views and clicks of their brands to direct money sales, or in the case of those groups who just want mindshare holds on consumers because their products are just physical, (like soda pop and candy,) campaigning for more beautiful graphic design in advertising.
It All Comes Down to Design
Design for a greater world where a marketplace for every kind of product, not just apps, is no longer one of simple tricks and nonsense in advertising, (like it is now,) but simply a place where developers can sell the product they've created to the consumers who then gladly trade them what they'd like in retune - cash. Amazon has an opportunity to transform the app sales landscape, at least in Android, to a much more positive place than it is right this moment in any mobile marketplace. Here's hoping they take this moment and make the most of it.