TechRewards blog

Promoting your paid app for free can have ‘staggering’ results

February 3rd, 2014 By TechRewards Team

Nokia Developer Ambassador Bill Reiss recently promoted his paid app Reading Lens using a DVLUP Campaign, where it was made available as a free download during the promotional period. According to Bill, the download numbers during the campaign were “staggering” – and the ongoing results for the app even now that the campaign has ended continue to be impressive. It is safe to say – and Bill did – that he likes where the whole thing is headed!


We caught up with Bill to ask about him about the DVLUP Campaign, and to get his thoughts about the right way to promote your own Windows Phone apps. Read on to see his results, and suggestions.

You were recently able to promote your paid app Reading Lens in the Windows Phone Store. Can you tell us about that promotion? You used a DVLUP Campaign, right?

Yes I signed up for a pilot program where you could take your paid app, make it free for a day, and in exchange you would get featured globally.

And, what were the results of the promotion itself?

Reading Lens has been available pretty much since the beginning of Windows Phone 8, and I had it free for the first couple of months. With all of my apps, I consistently get 10 times as many downloads with free apps as opposed to paid with trial, and other developers I’ve talked to get similar results. My total downloads since it was released, including the free time at the beginning was about 25,000.

During this promotion, making the app free, and getting globally featured in the No. 1 spot gave me 25,000 downloads in 2 days. I also briefly made it to the top spot in paid apps on Windows Phone, since the downloads while it was free count towards the popularity number once you switch it to paid again.

Now that the promotion has ended, are you still seeing good download numbers?

Before the promotion, Reading Lens had fallen off the map and I was seeing about 10 downloads a day. The day after I switched back to paid I had 490 downloads. The day after that I saw 430. I know the numbers will drop off, but being on the first page in the Windows Phone Store will help for a while.

How else do you typically promote your apps in the Windows Phone Store? Are there other approaches that you think are effective?

I think providing updates is important, especially when the features you add are a result of what is requested in your app reviews. For example, there was a feature requested by multiple users where they wanted to save the current screen contents to their Photos. I didn’t see the need for this at all, but once I implemented it, I’ve actually found myself using it pretty often. I recently updated the app to add a manual focus feature (shown below). I’ve seen a few users who say the auto focus of the camera doesn’t do a good job, so I want to give them the option of picking the optimal focus for their phone.


What advice would you give to new developers to help them promote their own apps? On Twitter, you mentioned frequent app updates … and the notion of releasing “early and often” – can you clarify how you do that?

I think this is so important. The top feature of any app is that it’s actually available for people to download and use. Don’t spend forever adding every feature you can think of. Be ruthless and cut features until you come up with a “Minimum Viable Product” and work to that and publish it. Users love updates – the more the better.

Also some of the features you thought were important might never be used, and you would have wasted your time developing them. Publish your app, and let your users help you make it awesome.

What do you learn from your users about the app itself? Are they doing things with Reading Lens that surprise you? Does that drive other changes/enhancements?

People have used this app in ways I never imagined, and drive me to add features to support their needs. I have heard about people using it to take a snapshot of license keys, read the colors on resistors, or get a serial number off of the back of a server.

Reading Lens (and Reading Glasses on Windows Phone 7 before it) has a bit of an interesting history. I originally wrote Reading Glasses while I was on the road because I was trying to qualify for a promotion that Joe Healy, our local Microsoft Developer Evangelist was running, and I thought I could write a minimal functionality but useful version of this app in a few hours. I got the idea from an app that Jay Kimble, local Tampa community rock star, wrote for Windows Phone 7.0 where you could take a picture of text and then zoom in on it. With the Mango update to Windows Phone 7 we gained the capability to do a real-time camera feed, and I took advantage of this to take Jay’s idea and expanded upon it.

You also offer a free, trial version of Reading Lens. How does it differ from the paid app?

Wow I could talk about this topic for hours, but I know we don’t have enough time now! If I had this to do all over again, I probably would have created a free app with in-app purchase and no paid app.

The two versions of the app are pretty much identical, and it was a bit of an experiment to see whether the free with in-app purchase or paid with trial was a better option. My big mistake with this app was to give too much away in the trial – and in the free version without in-app purchase. Since I gave so much away in the trial, I didn’t really have a compelling reason for people to buy the app. I added a button to the main page that obscures part of the screen which can be removed by buying the app.

I think you really need a compelling reason to convince people who downloaded your app for free to give you money … Even though I see at least 10 times as many downloads for the free app, both versions do about the same amount of revenue. So if you have an app that relies on some server that costs money per user, you need to be really careful about offering a free version with in app purchase, and in this case you might want to go with paid with trial instead. But if you are more interested in people actually using your app, and if you don’t have a cost per user, then free with in-app purchase is definitely a better route.

Any other tips that you would like to share?

The download numbers were staggering when making it free during the promotion, so I would recommend if you have a paid app, and are featured in the Windows Phone Store, that you go ahead and make your app free for the duration of the promotion to maximize your downloads, which will increase the ranking of your app and in the long run will give you more downloads.

You also might want to check out my YouTube video about increasing your app popularity recorded by Russ Fustino:

I also want to recommend Kevin Schaefer’s blog – he is on the DVLUP leaderboard and he gave me a lot of great tips about increasing your app’s popularity.

You can keep up with Bill’s work, and his progress with Reading Lens, through his development blog and on Twitter.

Find out how you can use DVLUP Campaigns to promote your own apps.