Changing Your iOS App from Paid to Free – and then Back Again

Splittin Image App

App pricing can be a difficult choice for developers. Is the pragmatic route $0.99? What if you go higher? How many people might be looking at your app but not buying it, because it’s too expensive? What’s your app worth, anyway?

On the plus side, this is something that’s easy to experiment with; simply change the price and then monitor the data. But that doesn’t help you at launch – a time when you’re trying to get everything right.

Maybe your app will be reviewed or written about. You might have arranged some media attention yourself. There’s also the default/free exposure you get in the App Store itself. Launch is possibly the best time to make a focused effort to get people looking at your app. If you can “get the ball rolling” – you might be able to “keep the ball rolling”.

You want your app to be successful; you want consistent and healthy downloads. For that to happen you need your app to stay visible.

What if you get it wrong? Could a price change help? Cheaper? What about free?

If you make your app free with the intention of changing it back to paid – can you generate enough interest to make a difference?

Joel Dales, creator of Splittin Image, decided to try this approach. He’s also agreed to share the experience…

“Paid to Free” – with Splittin Image

The app: Splittin Image allows you to take any two pictures and merge them in any angle you choose, creating a distinct effect that will provide endless fun and possibilities.

Details: Category – Photo & Video. Price – $0.99.

Q: What did you do at launch?

My launch of Splittin Image was pretty basic. I told everyone I knew about the app and had them Rate/Review it. I also had an Instagram shoutout page which guaranteed users a shoutout to 7K+ followers if they downloaded Splittin Image and rated it.

The Instagram idea was a FAIL because no one wanted a shoutout for $0.99, which makes sense, but I figured I’d try anyway.

My last method to generate exposure was to get review websites to review my app. That was another FAIL and also a waste of time and promo codes. Out of 30+ promo codes I had given out, only one was used. (I would later find out that switching “to free” gives you exposure on many review websites that cover “paid to free” apps, including top review websites like AppAdvice!)

Q: How were initial downloads for the app?

Downloads for the first week totalled around 85. Needless to say, I wasn’t satisfied with those numbers. I knew that I needed to market my app – but had no money/budget to do so. I began researching the “paid to free” strategy.

During this research I noticed that many people were saying it wasn’t really worth it. There’s the possibility of getting a lot of bad reviews from “kids who just like downloading free apps all day”. Many people also mentioned that there was “no significant change in sales”.

With all the negative reviews in mind, I decided to go ahead and give it a shot, to try it for myself.

Q: What happened when you changed to free?

The numbers:

  • Day 1 – 392 downloads
  • Day 2 – 13,337 downloads
  • Day 3 – 6,312 downloads
  • Total – 20,041 downloads

Over that 3 day time span I managed to reach top 15 free photo apps in the US! Splittin Image was charting all over the world and the reviews were mostly 5 stars. People were loving the app. I guess you could say this part of the “paid to free” strategy worked.

Q: What happened when you changed back to paid?

The app was a hit when it was free. The obvious question I had was, will it be a hit when it when people have to pay?

Here are the numbers:

  • Day 1 – 30 downloads
  • Day 2 – 17 downloads
  • Day 3 – 11 downloads
  • Total – 58 downloads

At $0.99, that wasn’t exactly enough to buy the Lamborghini that the App Store life promised! The sales did increase on day one, but it wasn’t a significant change.

Joel’s conclusion

Switching from paid to free, in my mind, was worth it. It earned me some bragging rights that I could put in the app description. I also got a lot of much-needed exposure from review websites.

My SEO and ASO rank increased, and as of today, over 21,000 iPhone users have Splittin Image on their device.

Whilst that is positive, it’s definitely not the outcome I was hoping for before entering the App Store. I am going to conduct research for the next couple of months on “app marketing” and develop a marketing strategy to increase sales. My next strategy may involve paying for marketing, but that will require a lot of research on my part before committing. Organic marketing will have to do for now.

Tip – I’d recommend staying away from paid-reviews on “Free Apps” websites, if you decide to use the “paid to free” model. I did not pay a single dime and Splittin Image charted as high as some of the apps where developers did pay.

Thanks for sharing

I’d like to say thanks to Joel for sharing the data and his views on the process. I found the story very interesting; I’m sure others will too.

Joel’s app: Splittin Image.