What’s an acceptable in-app purchase? Poll coming very soon

This has been on my mind for a while now. There have been more and more apps that are initially free and then allow you to by functionality using in-app purchase. NLog Free is a good example, as is the recent iShred Live app.

So, what do you consider to be acceptable as an in-app purchase? I’ll be putting up a poll soon to ask you what you think is ok.

When you fill it out only tick the options you would be happy to pay for via in-app purchase.


  1. I'd say 2.99$ is probably my limit but, at 0.99$, I'm likely to make a lot more purchases, on a regular basis (say, up to one a month on average, if the purchased features were even slightly interesting). At 3$, I'm already thinking about the value proposition in another light, and am unlikely to purchase again unless the deal was remarkable and I don't feel “nickel and dimmed.” Package deals, in the form of pro versions, may also make a lot of sense, if I didn't invest too much in in-app purchases.

  2. I personally will go to $9.99-$14.99 level if the app is comparable to desktop software. Beatmaker, nanostudio and other deep apps come to mind. But I think developers would be better of just charging the full price upfront, as most in app purchases bring the price to $9.99 and up anyway. If the functionality is there I'll gladly pay more, but it's always a pain to have to do 4-10 downloads/purchases even if you have no issue with cost.

  3. For me, it's the difference between “content” and fundamental features or parameters. I'm totally open to paying extra for things like additional sample banks or other new content (new effects, or instruments, or etc.) in programs, but paying to essentially “turn on” extra features – like that one recording app that charges you to add extra channels – is just insulting. Another major factor is whether the program is essentially complete with the initial purchase, or has been basically crippled or released incomplete with the intent of nickel-and-diming you to get the functionality that it appeared to have in the first place (like sample-based apps that release with just a tiny handful of samples but are all-too ready to charge you for any number of “extra” ones).

  4. the £8.99 i payed for nanostudio is and probably will always be the most i pay for an app.

    trying very hard to cut down on my app fix of late

  5. It's fascinating that so many of the barriers with respect to app pricing and in-app purchase are predominantly psychological.

    A couple of issues seem to predominate, first is questions of perceived value of apps. Often comparisons are drawn to desktop applications and audio plugins, but iPhone app prices are not in the least comparable. True, there are few iPhone/iPad apps that are comparable in functionality to full-blown desktop audio applications, but the comparison between iPhone apps and VST or AU plug-in functionality does seem appropriate. There are very few paid audio plug-ins with pricing similar to iPhone/iPad apps. They are either free or 10x-20x more costly.

    The second major issue that comes up is that of feeling chiseled or “nickel-and-dimed” over secondary features and additional content. I fear that the factors driving this trend are similar to those that drive the “race-to-the-bottom” of $0.99 iPhone app pricing. And similarly they are just as inevitable. i.e. the platform is structured for nickel-and-diming.

    As we explore the world of iPhone app monetization, I'm curious about peoples' feelings about advertising. Apple is heavily lobbying developers of even paid apps to add their iAd advertisements. Have you seen much advertising in music apps? Do you find it objectionable? How about the question of paid apps with ads? Where is the trade off between the perceived value of apps with ads vs those without? i.e. how much less should your favorite app be if it had ads?

  6. @Richard: Agreed that it's psychiological, as much human behaviour is. And our perceptions are set by a large number of factors, including our prior (unrelated) experiences. If you pay 15$ for an app you never use, you become more careful about buying apps (the same way you might react after buying lots and vegetables and not managing to use them in time). It's not the developer's fault, per se, but since there's no “try before you buy,” you may either feel cheated or silly. In both cases, your buying pattern will probably have repercussions on other apps you buy.
    In-App purchases are quite special. For one thing, some developers do sell essential features on a piece-by-piece basis. At least, it can feel like this to some people. And what they feel is what we're trying to get. The iShred Live case is interesting. You get some nice effects for free but to get the same effects as in iShred, you need to pay. Since there's an advertised connection between the Belkin ConnectCable and iShred Live, you may get the impression that, with the cable, you also get the full set of effects. Of course, there's no way to check which cable you have, there's no confusion in the documentation, and it makes a lot of sense to pay for individual effects (especially since they're very inexpensive compared to the hardware equivalent). But you may still feel like the “package” looked better when you bought it. It'd be your own fault, as a buyer, but it'd still have the same effect.

  7. It's easy to go overboard with in-app purchases. Spending 3$ here and there, you can quickly end up with a hefty bill. And you may start looking to cut on these purchases. With smaller individual amounts, it takes longer to get significant enough a total amount that you may end up buying a lot more, during a much longer period of time.

    There's also the general perception that what is purchased within the app is lower value than a full app. Not a rational thing, of course, but I'm quite sure it's the case. In fact, iOS apps are still perceived as being lower value than desktop apps, with iPad apps slipping slightly from the top of that range. An in-app purchase on an iPhone or iPod touch looks like it probably be cheaper than equivalent features in a desktop app, even though development and other costs may have been higher. The expectation is also set that the quality of the app is relatively low, but that's ok. Many apps are in the gadget category, and people expect that.

    Having said all this, it's probably possible to convince people to make in-app purchases for large amounts. But this require an effective marketing strategy. Not necessary advertising your product. But finding the right angle for your product.

    Something rather interesting, in the relam of mobile music apps, is that it's something of a niche but it's also very close to the mass market. Serious musicians may buy several of these apps, comparing favourably with the value proposition with dedicated apps or equipment. Hobbyists may buy these apps to “improve their game,” benefitting from the fact that they can “use the same app as Jordan Rudess!” And people who aren't that much into music may actually start engaging in some ways, because it's less intimidating than similar apps on desktops.

  8. Still about the apps themselves… There are very different categories, out there. So far, there's been a huge number of fairly disappointing apps, IMHO. You try it once or twice and notice that it may have some fun features but it's basically too limited for what you want to do. I won't name names, but these apps did lower my expectations from mobile music apps, even among some well-known ones.

    Then, there's the category of apps which are flexible enough for experienced musicians, but which are still approachable enough for hobbyists. In some ways, the mobile app market is opening this up for the first time. Sure, it was possible to make interesting music with all sorts of things, in the past. But some mobile apps are really “pushing the envelope” to a very rapid attack and high amplitude sustain. I've been especially impressed by ThumbJam and NanoStudio. Though they're not gadgets, they can be used as gadgets. They're opening up something rather new.
    As for the other section, that of powerful apps which require much musical experience… Haven't tried the expensive ones, but they actually don't look like a major step up from what's available on the desktop. Some of the (inexpensive) ones I tried were useful enough, but didn't induce the same kind of reaction as NanoStudio and ThumbJam. A huge part of this is the learning curve. They may rely on broad conventions from desktop apps or hardware. But there's often something a bit that you have to “get” to make use of the app. And even though results from that app may sound really good, the learning curve means an investment in time. This might be worth it for some people, but the “added value” of having the app on a mobile device may be unclear. You might as well do everything on another platform.

  9. So, to go back to in-app purchases, specifically…
    Some of them make sense in the “consumer” segment, especially if they have to do with content. There's a bunch of apps out there which are more like games you can play with musical kits or tracks involved. In this case, prices in the lower range probably make a lot of sense since you may get a large number of purchases. In fact, some of them may be promotional.
    In the hobbyist category, it'd probably make sense to have some kind of “incremental” strategy, based on the granularity of features. Very difficult to do, I'm sure. But this is already something which can make sense for iShred Live. Sure, experienced musicians may buy any effect or amp which is added. Some of them may even use Apple's “GarageBand JamPack,” on occasion. But chances are that they'd rather get as full-featured an environment for real-time effects as possible. It might be technically possible to get something as elaborate as ProTools on a mobile platform (probably not iOS, given limitations such as space for audio files). At that point, some people may focus on a mobile platform and start purchasing very complex apps, possibly using in-app purchases to get interesting plugins. But, in the meantime, I have some difficulty perceiving a real market for complex apps on mobile devices. Apple's own iWork is already a bit convoluted, for certain tasks. The strength of a mobile device comes in large part from the overall “simplicity.” And, unless they respond to a very specific need, simple features rarely carry a very high price point.

    [Semi-disclaimer: I'm an ethnomusicologist and a sax player. Since traning at a MIDI studio in college (back in '89-'91), I do have some background in music and audio apps, especially in terms of analysis. But I haven't really been spending my time producing music using computers.]

  10. (Sorry about the long, split comments and the deleted ones. Blogger has restrictions in numbers of characters and, even under that, I kept receiving error messages from “URI too long.” I really should have posted this as an entry on one of my own blogs. But it was kind of too late when I finished writing.)

  11. For the record, I'm strongly in favour of in-app purchases for audio/music apps. But like Rod Donovan said, to me it's about “Content” vs “Features”.

    Content is something to be consumed and re-used by the app (sample packs, sampled instruments, loops, even synth patches). This is ideal for in-app purchasing.

    When it comes to features, though, I think the developer needs to consider what they want their users to do with the app. If you want your users to collaborate/share music compositions with each other, than all of the effects and instruments and tracks need to be available to every user of the app.

    I see Beatmaker and Nanostudio fitting into this category, for instance. I would hate to enter into a collaboration with someone, only to find out that their ZooPaStudio (fictional app) file they shared with me won't play in my copy of the app because I didn't buy three of the instruments they used.

    But if the goal of the app is to be used only by a single user, then allowing that user to pay to expand the app's functionality to fit their individual needs (like adding extra tracks or additional effects) is a great idea.

    Developers also have to start considering the legacy of iPhone devices out there. In-app purchases that expand features are a great way to address this, IMHO.

    E.g., as the owner of an “aging” device (iPod Touch 2G), I would very happily pay a reduced price to buy a unique sequencer with a limited number of tracks and effects. That way, I'm not paying for umpteen tracks or effects that my device could never handle processing all at once.

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