Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Gaming Apple's App Store for Profit

With so much money at stake, a growing array of services profit by helping developers get their apps to the top of the charts.

  • October 14, 2010

Credit: Chris Drumm

There are two ways to get your app into the upper echelons of Apple’s list of most-downloaded apps–one is by making a really great app; the other, apparently, is by buying your way in.

That, at least, is the promise of a growing list of services that will gladly take developer’s money in exchange for downloads from a small army of users. Those users, in turn, are paid a small amount, up to $0.25, for downloading the app.

If this business model sounds familiar, it’s because it’s exactly what sites like Subvert and Profit do in order to game social bookmarking sites. The difference is that while Digg will ban anyone it thinks is trying to game its site, which after all is dependent on content rising to its homepage on its own merit, Apple doesn’t seem to care who games their app stores, or how.

As a result, the early entrant in this field, Apperang, now has competition from Leaderboard Media and a pair of French sites, AppVip and Appsteur.

It’s possible that these sites are simply happy to take developer cash in exchange for the faint hope that they could possibly buy enough downloads to make a material difference to their app store rankings, but as MobileCrunch pointed out, a service like Apperang is already significantly cheaper per download than conventional advertising through services like AdMob and iAd.

This means someone, somewhere, finds value in actually paying users to download their apps. In other words, as if free apps weren’t enough, some app producers are actually willing to give their apps a negative price in order to move product. I guess they make it up on volume?

Judging by the shady spam blogs on which Apperang advertises itself, the company is simply positioning itself in a chain of arbitrage that would be familiar to any broker of online ads–literally, somewhere between complete spam and users so economically backward that they’re willing to work for pennies, downloading apps to a phone that’s already costing them upwards of $80 a month.

h/t Oliver Rechenstein and Kari Pätilä

Follow Mims on Twitter or contact him via email.

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