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App Store 30% cut

The Mac App Store launched! Like many developers I spent the day taking it out for a spin, thinking about whether this changes everything, and trying to ignore the fact that my app Clipstart isn't in the store on day 1 even though I submitted to Apple 7 weeks ago.

But let's talk about Apple's 30% cut, because it's been on my mind now that I have a real app in the iPad App Store. It's easy to keep these discussions too vague to be meaningful — 2.9% + $0.30 for PayPal, 8.9% for FastSpring, 30% for Apple, who cares? — so it's more illustrative to work with real numbers.

The massively-popular Camera+ from Tap Tap Tap sold 78,000 copies on Christmas day, but no one else I know sees numbers like that. My own $10 Tweet Library fell a little short of 1000 copies in its first launch month... and unfortunately continued to drop since, but let's use that to keep the math simple. Selling direct via PayPal would be $590 in fees. To Apple? About $3000.

Apple provides a unique service and it's their right to charge whatever they want. Developers can choose to pay it or restrict development to more open platforms. I'm inclined to think the 30% is high but not unreasonable for everything Apple hopes to provide.

But here's where everything breaks down: for $3000 I expect someone at Apple to tell me what the $%!# is going on.

It's not just review times, or emails that go into the void, unanswered for days or weeks or ever. It's that Apple isn't able to communicate about the fundamental issues that will make or break businesses.

• When is the Mac App Store launching? No word from Apple for months, and a press release went to news sites before developers got a heads-up.

• Why has my Mac app been in review for over a month, right up to the very day before the Mac App Store launches? No answer, and nothing to do but wait.

• Where was a beta version of the Mac App Store so that we could understand how it interacted with existing apps before it was too late? Nowhere.

• Why didn't we receive more guidance on bundle IDs, version numbers, and app naming, obvious questions that only Apple knew the answer to? No clue.

• When will there be promo codes for the Mac App Store to give to the press or help transition customers to the store? No idea, might be never.

A year and a half ago Craig Hockenberry wrote about paying extra for fast approvals and a better communication channel. It reflected in words how frustrated everyone was over long app review times. At the time, I answered that quality customer service from Apple is something all developers deserve, not just those with cash to burn.

But clearly it's even worse than that. Apple isn't currently capable of significantly improving how the App Store works for any price! The App Store does get better, but it does so at Apple's own pace.

There are many great people at Apple. Individually I know they are passionate about making good products and helping developers succeed, but collectively it seems like no one person is running the show. The developer-facing side of the company needs to have the freedom to become more transparent, to work closely with the iTunes Connect support team when developers need an answer. Apple's secrecy cripples their ability to have a positive relationship with developers.

So do I think the 30% cut is too much? No, not for a straight answer. That would be priceless.