Never Charge for a Mobile App?

gigaom.gifGigaom tells us (after a VC panel at Google I/O ) that we should never charge for a Mobile App.

As with most advice, I’d say "it depends…". If you are a large brand or a well known publisher then people will be willing to part with their money. However, for the unknown author it’s probably wise to use a freemium model.

Having said this, I have seen a few implications of giving things away…

  • Your users will still expect support. Can you support hundreds or thousands of free users emailing you? If you don’t respond well then people will rate you down in the app store. Think about adding extra help screens, FAQs and/or automating support.
  • People who download for free tend to have a lower threshold for giving up as they have less to lose if they walk away. These people might also down rate your app. This is a particular problem for complex apps that need more of a ‘involvement investment’ on behalf of the end user.
  • If you have a server-side, can your server cope with the data traffic and/or throughput from free users? Will you end up paying for extra data use or for better thoughput (eg on Google App Engine)?
  • Finally, if you give something away for free, it’s very difficult to make people pay for it if you change your mind. For example, I have seen a situation where a new partner appeared who could help market an application but required a change to make it a paid app. It’s not only difficult to change end user expectation on price but some app stores insist that an app remain free once it has been published as free.

These things aren’t insurmountable but they can be unforeseen problems especially for smaller publishers.