How to make $1 million, 99¢ at a time
Apple's genteel TV ads would have you believe that the little programs you can buy for the iPhone or the iPod Touch, called "apps," are sober-minded, highly constructive tools. In truth, though, some of the biggest profits for the people who make those little programs are pointless time-killers. Invent the right one, and you can take boredom to the bank.
For Apple fans, Joel Comm's name is already the stuff of get-rich-quick folklore. He's a Web marketing expert who updated the classic whoopee cushion and created iFart, an iPhone app that does nothing but express a variety of flatulence noises. From the moment it was released a year ago, it became an instant smash, selling 39,000 in a single day.
At 99 cents a download, that's an instant fortune, and thanks to numbers like that, iFart quickly achieved cult status among get-rich-quick programmers.
Apple's iTunes Store, the official channel and approvals clearinghouse for all new apps, is currently crammed with some 100,000 apps, and the Bay Area has been reporting a "new Gold Rush" as developers swarm the city and try to take their own bite at the fruit. It's a little like the dot-com boom, except this time, it's based on actual sales potential, not speculation.
To ensure iFart's out-of-the-gate success and dominance over literally hundreds of other fart-themed apps, Comm has mastered the art of free Internet word-of-mouth -- harnessing controversy, making sure his title was buoyed high in the best-seller lists -- to ensure that his little app makes him about $500 a day, every day.
Comm is one of the biggest poster boys of the iPhone app success legend. But he isn't alone.
Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative is one of the creators of Pocket God, an app that didn't exist a year ago but has since sold more than 1.6 milion copies. Pocket God is another blissfully additive time-killer in which players simply torment a tribe of feckless islanders by doing things such as tossing them into a volcano, roasting them over a fire, or feeding them to a marauding shark.
Pocket God is maybe even more useless than iFart, but in the realm of iPhones, utility is not a bar to a smashing success. Still, its financial model is unique: Users pay only one time for the game despite the fact their money grants them the right to frequent updates into perpetuity, which embellish and enrich the fun on a regular basis. Once plenty of players were hooked on that something-for-nearly-nothing model, Castelnuovo began introducing cheap add-ons, such as seasonal "skins" that make the game look different in celebration of holiday periods.
Both games represent two different ways to get rich at the iPhone game, and WalletPop's Jason Cochran wrangled both app titans into a single round-table podcast along with Michael Rose of our sister site for everything Apple, TUAW.com. Despite the fact that Comm and Castelnuovo are both emblems of improbable success on the iPhone platform, neither of them had spoken to each other -- until now. Be a witness to history as Comm proposes an iFart/Pocket God crossover, and listen in as Comm, for the first time in months, releases sales figures to iFart exclusively to WalletPop.com.
In this only-for-WalletPop podcast, the two programmers compare notes, and for the benefit of recession-battered entrepreneurs, reveal the secrets of their success. How can you get past Apple's mercurial and inscrutable approvals process, how can you make sure people keep talking about your silly little program, and how can you make money once Apple takes its 30% share of everything you sell?
Most importantly, how can someone with no software background get in on the game?