Jeff Johnson (My apps, PayPal.Me)

Mac indie dev alliance

October 21 2022

Small indie developers have always relied on word of mouth recommendations, because we don't have big budgets for paid advertising. Ironically, in the App Store era we may have become even more dependent on word of mouth recommendations, because App Store top charts favor cheap crap and massive hype over sustainable artisanship, while crowdsourced App Store ratings and reviews have largely supplanted software reviews in the traditional tech news media, which we benefited from a lot more in the past. To stay in business, small indie devs face two tough tasks: (1) making consumers aware of our software and (2) convincing consumers to trust us enough to buy our software. As a small indie dev myself, I've of course given much thought to these tasks, and recently I had an idea: what if, instead of each developer taking on these tasks alone, we collaborated?

I want to be clear from the start: I am not proposing an alternative app store. Nor am I proposing an app listing site such as MacUpdate or VersionTracker. What I am proposing is a trade association of indie Mac developers for mutual support and referral. Logistically, the level of commitment would be small. My idea was to create a (static) web site for the group, and then each member of the group would add a reference to the group on their own business web sites. So your site would say "Member of the Mac indie dev alliance" (or whatever we choose to call it), along with a link to the group's site, and maybe the group's logo if we chose to create a logo. I would expect there to be a small annual fee to cover the costs of hosting the group web site. I'm not opposed to personally administering the site, but neither am I opposed to someone else administering it; these technical details could be decided later.

What are the benefits of this trade association? First, it could help with app discovery. It's one more way of discovering software, and crucially a way that's independent of the App Store, independent of the news media, a way that's in our own hands. If a consumer discovers one indie app, however that occurred, it can then lead to the discovery of other indie apps. In a way, it's kind of like Amazon's "if you purchased this item, then you may also like…" except that Amazon's recommendations suck, and ours wouldn't! My intention would be to keep the group's membership relatively small and "curated". It would be a group of Mac developers who know each other and trust each other. A large, random group wouldn't have the same effectiveness; that would dilute discovery, and also dilute the recommendation factor. The group's web site would not be a list of apps per se, it would be a list of Mac developer members, though naturally there would be some space provided for the developers to mention and describe their software. The exact details of this would be decided by consensus of the group.

The second benefit of the trade association would be to inspire consumer confidence. Small indie devs are largely unknown to the public. A consumer may discover your software in one of many ways, but the consumer may still have doubts about trusting an unknown developer. It may help to know that you're part of a respectable business group. And even if consumers don't know you individually, they may know one or more of the other developers in the group. We can all vouch for each other!

The proposed indie developer alliance would be open to Mac developers both inside and outside the Mac App Store. My own apps are all in the App Store. Again, I am not proposing to replace or compete with the App Store. Each developer would continue to sell their own software in the same ways they've always been selling their software. The Mac indie dev alliance is just a way to hopefully help us sell even more.

Why is this group restricted to Mac developers? Well, I'm not really opposed to including iOS developers in principle. After all, I have some apps in the iOS App Store myself. I am worried about the size of the group. As I said earlier, my intention was to keep the membership relatively small, and the group would be much less effective at its intended purposes if it became too large. I'm also worried about the future of Mac software, given the dominance of iPhone and the continuing iOS-ification of the Mac. Thus, I feel that Mac developers are in need of more help right now. And the app discovery factor is more targeted if it's restricted to Mac developers: consumers who buy one Mac app are likely to be interested in other Mac apps. So I would say that the possibility exists of including indie iOS devs, but it remains to be seen whether that's practicable and advisable.

I've heard from a few Mac developers already who are interested in this idea. However, I don't think it can get off the ground unless there's more interest. The right size of the group is crucial: not too big, but not too small either. So if you're an indie Mac developer, and you're interested in this idea, please contact me. I expect that we would eventually need to arrange some form of group communication such as an email list or Slack to conduct discussions, if it looks like the idea might move forward. I'm definitely open to suggestions! This wouldn't be a dictatorship but rather an alliance of equals.

Jeff Johnson (My apps, PayPal.Me)