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Making money selling iPhone applications

Stuart McDonald is the founder and publisher of the popular online travel guide to South East Asia – Travelfish.org. Recently they have made the switch from selling downloadable ebooks to iPhone applications and in their own words: “This app doesn’t supplement a guidebook, but replaces it.” Some application developers have become millionaires overnight with the success of their applications.

Travel Fish Balli iPhone appFor people who don’t own an iPhone or maybe even a smart phone, can you tell us what an application actually is?

An application is a program that runs on your phone. In our case, the apps are similar to electronic books in that you can swipe from page to page to get information, look at photos and so on.

Previously on your site Travelfish you were selling downloadable ebooks, what made you take the decision to switch to iPhone applications?

There’s a lot we can do with iPhone apps that we can’t with PDF guides. For example, the app contains hundreds of high-resolution photos to show Bali at its best, interactive maps to help you find your way around and reams of text to keep you informed. The end product is far more useful than a PDF book.

How difficult is it to get an application approved by Apple?

As long as the programming is solid, it is just a waiting game. The Bali app took about a week for Apple to approve.

With the success of the iPhone and stories of developers becoming millionaires from selling their apps, the iPhone has apparently become a competitive marketplace. Is marketing your application any different from what you would normally do to promote an online business?

It is an extremely competitive market and with considerable downward pressure on prices, unless you’re willing to do a lot of loss-leading, there is limited scope to “market” apps in the traditional manner. Obviously, we push the app through Travelfish.org, Twitter and Facebook but other than that the only marketing has been through chasing traditional press for coverage. The Jakarta Globe ran a story on the Bali app at the start of the week for example.

If someone has an idea for an app but has no idea about programming, can they still get their app developed?

Yes, but they will need to work with a developer. The coding is quite complex and I’d describe it, at least for now, as a specialized field. One can either work with a developer to build something from scratch or there are some template-style apps that people can populate with their own information with little programming knowledge required — quality can be quite variable in this regard though.

In a previous newsletter, I talked about the success authors are having publishing for the Kindle. Do you have any plans to perhaps create your guides for the Kindle?

We’re talking about it — I need to buy a Kindle first!

Can you give any tips or advice for anyone thinking about developing an iPhone app?

Two things. Keep your expectations under control. The vast majority of apps in the store probably sell less than one copy a day. Gaming is one area where there is a serious amount of money being made, but that is now often cornered by bigger players. For some though, apps can be a reasonable income stream as a part of a larger business.

Don’t underestimate the time it takes to put the app together. We thought it would take 6 weeks to build our first app when in fact it took six months.

Can you please tell us a little bit about the application you created for Bali? Is it just for tourists or is it useful for expats also?

The Bali app is primarily a travel guide. It covers over 20 destinations on the island, from the popular destinations like Kuta and Ubud through to lesser known spots like Munduk, Medewi, Pemuteran and Nusa Ceningan. It includes reviews of over 300 guesthouses and hotels, 150 places to eat and dozens of activities and attractions. There’s interactive maps, a photo gallery and also a detailed introductory section covering history, culture and so on.

It is primarily aimed at visitors to Bali, but would also be of considerable use to expats living in Bali who are looking for guidance on weekend breaks and so on.

How can people download your Bali travel app?

It’s available in the iTunes Appstore and you need an iPhone to be able to use it. Regularly selling for US$8, it is currently on sale at $0.99 till next Monday.

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