For this month’s regular “On Location” article in D-Photo Magazine, we instead put together an “Off Location” story, based on our behind the scenes experience in developing our new app PhotoTorial.  Read on for more…

On Off Location – It’s ‘APPy Hour!

Anyone in the business of photography will tell you that for every photo they take, there is an equal amount of time (often more) spent working behind the scenes.  Not only in the preparation, planning and post-production of that specific photo or photo-shoot, but on developing and managing their business in general.

So it shouldn’t be so surprising that for all of Chris’s wild adventures around the world shooting travel images, there is also a great deal of time spent back in the office managing his business.  And these days, with all of the new and diverse opportunities made available through technology, managing a photographic business doesn’t just have to be about taking photos and e-mailing clients.  It can also be about finding different end-products for those images, increasing and broadening your customer base and earning potential, or developing entirely new methods of earning or working.

It was with this in mind that Chris and I spent some time late last year looking at our business, working out what our biggest assets were, and coming up with new ways to trade off those assets to ensure our business remained viable not only now, but into the future.  Part of that was to embrace the new buzzword of the recession – “diversification”.

So what did we come up with?  A couple of things actually…  Our biggest resource is definitely Chris’s images and their world-wide appeal, but just as important is his expertise and knowledge in the industry, especially considering that covers over 25 years of commercial experience working as a full time professional.  These days I get many times more e-mails from fans and enthusiasts wanting to share that knowledge than I do from clients wanting to book us for work.  (And I still get plenty of e-mails from clients, so that’s saying quite a bit).

So how do we share that knowledge?  Our first thought was to develop an e-book, but this was quickly replaced by the excitement of developing an app.  How many of us are completely addicted to our smart phones and would be lost without the instant ability to look up the word “zemblanity” while playing the kids at scrabble in the weekend, ‘Shazam’ that song you just head on the radio so you can download the album immediately, or spy on the neighbours down the street using Google Earth?

We started researching our app project in August last year and the initial findings weren’t fantastic.  Just 20% of paid apps are downloaded more than 100 times and only 0.2% of paid apps are downloaded more than 10,000 times*.  That meant that if our app was modestly priced at $4.99 we had a 1 in 5 chance of making $500, but only a 1 in 500 chance of making $50,000.  And considering most apps cost in the region of $10,000 to $30,000 to develop, those figures weren’t great.  In fact researchers estimate that the total revenue achievable by selling app downloads is only somewhere between $4,000 and $8,000.  Hmmm…

And yet Mobile App Revenue is predicted to reach $38 Billion (and that’s US dollars) by 2015**.  So someone is going to be making some decent money out there!  The biggest earners on the app market are predominantly camera apps and games – well over half of which are free, using in-app purchasing or ad supported models to generate income.  Selling downloads of a specialist app (such as a photography tutorial like we wanted to create) just doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Once we accepted the fact that we weren’t going to become overnight millionaires by creating an app – in fact we weren’t even likely to recover our costs – it was easier to look at the project objectively and decide at what point we were prepared to proceed.  We decided that if we did all of the design work ourselves to keep costs down, and if we used in-app purchasing to add potential revenue to a small part of the content, then it was a worthwhile project.

We also recognised there was a PR value in having an app out there on the market place, and from an administrative point of view it would give me somewhere to point people when I received regular e-mails asking for tips and advice on how Chris became a professional travel photographer.  In fact for that reason alone it was worth putting a reasonable amount of budget aside for the project!  Chris has had a great career and is just as passionate about photography now as he was the day he first picked up a camera, and he is only too keen to share that enthusiasm with others.  Having all of that content available in an app for others to use therefore made perfect sense to us.

Design work (which we did ourselves) started in September, actual App production started in December, and the app – called “PhotoTorial” – was released on iTunes on the 12th of March 2013.  We needed another couple of updates to get everything 100%, but the app is now available online and we are thrilled to have already achieved over 1,500 downloads.

Based on our research, we decided to initially offer a “freemium” product, which is a free app with in-app purchasing for additional higher value content.  We will also follow this with a paid version (to include all content for the one price), and we have the option of looking at an ad supported model as well.  If you’d like to take a look at our freemium app, visit www.travelphotographyapps.com and download it now (or search for “PhotoTorial” on iTunes).

The entire project from start to finish took well over six months, which was a good thing as it meant we could spread the costs out and it also gave us time to make sure we developed the app exactly how we wanted it.  But it certainly burst the bubble on making a quick buck out of app development, there was nothing quick about it!!  We went into this project with a clear aim – we wanted to make Chris’s knowledge and experience available to users in app format.  This was our first priority, and that meant we had to let go of any expectations of returning a profit.  If the app eventually covers its costs we will be delighted, and that is enough for now.

For those out there with dreams of conquering the app market, I recommend you visit this site – www.bluecloudsolutions.com.  It’s one of the sites I discovered when first researching apps and it certainly helps understand the business model of app success – Carter has published over 100 apps and made a stack of money doing so.  But he doesn’t do it with the end goal of a specific app in mind.  If you want to make money through developing apps, it is less about the app itself and more about using app source code (any app) as a vehicle to return revenue.  In his words “Buy Low, Re-Skin, Repeat.  Only Make Games”.

But if you are a photographer wanting to develop a photography specific app, think first about what you can offer the market – what is your greatest asset or resource – and then come up with a unique way of packaging that into an app that your audience will appreciate and enjoy.  Good luck!

* 2011 Report by Cambridge University.

** 2011 Report by Forrester Research, US.

Images copyright Chris McLennan, Words by Catherine McLennan

As published in D-Photo Magazine.

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