A topic not so often elaborated about the App Store is the effect of ranking. This post is only intended to emphasize this fact, and of course it is not sure that Apple could find a better solution. The funny thing is that the success of an app (at least in the short term) depends much more on its ranking than on its quality. The App Store as become such a big store that it is easy not to find the best app you are looking for, because no one will check all 50 or 100 results he will get. The page 1 effect (similar to being/not being on page 1 on Google Search results) is actually the main driver of the success of an app. To give an example, I am one of the developers of Virtual Metronome, which currently appears as 3rd result when you type metronome on the French App Store. We see big changes in our sales when the position of the app changes from 7 to 6 (appearing in results for iPhone apps in iTunes) or 6 to 5 (when searching apps from the iPhone, you see 5 results without scrolling). What makes it a funny experiment is that our situation on US app store is radically different. We just don’t appear in any main results and our current position is rank 43.
As in many markets, this situation favors:
- Pioneers: It is easy to get a good rank at the moment you are the first one on a given segment
- People already having a good rank: when your app already has a good ranking, the app store will automatically continue to offer your app with a much better visibility
An economist would tell you that this is common sense and that this effect is linked to several points:
- Such markets have Economies of scale. It becomes easier and easier to expand your market share when it is already big. The App Store is quite similar to electricity or oil companies markets. As long as you become bigger, your costs decrease because it becomes very cheap (it is expensive to develop a web site, but it is almost free to offer it to a lot of users) to enhance your offer. These markets tend to become monopolies, as it is more cost efficient to have one company than two (the society has to pay fixed costs only once). Similarly, in any segment of the App Store, big apps will become very big and eventually kill the others
- In a segment of the App Store, if it reaches the equilibrium (no more new apps, stabilized offer), the best app for this segment will eventually have the first rank. But the app store has not reached any equilibrium, and it will probably not in the next few years.
So if you release an app on the App Store and you believe it to be better than other competing ones, you have no other choice than trying to have a famous website make a buzz about your app. So in some way it must be revolutionary (relatively of the possibilities of the segment of metronomes for iPhone ;)) to be quickly powered on the first page thanks to a lot of downloads in a short time.