Mac Indie Marketing

The Mac Indie Marketing Blog

This blog has been inactive for a while, though a lot of its resources are still useful.

This page started out as a place to hold some resources and links to back up Dan Wood's "blitz" presentation to a room full of "indie" (independent) Mac developers at the C4 Conference in September, 2009. It migrated to a blog about, and for, fellow indie Mac developers. There may be some tidbits that are useful to users of our website-building application Sandvox, but the primary audience is other Mac developers.

Posts on this blog (as opposed to the general Karelia news blog) are written by Dan (thus, in the first person) unless otherwise noted.

WWDC Prediction: Mac App Store

Since the iPhone app store debuted, there has been speculation that Apple may introduce a similar app store for Mac OS X applications.

I really started thinking about this when I saw a 2008 tweet from Steven Frank:

Scenario: Apple makes code-signing mandatory for desktop Mac applications. You can now only buy them through iTunes. Think it can't happen?

The discussions over email, over Twitter, or over beers have ranged from the skeptical "It'll never happen" to the paranoid "OMG OMG."

But now, I'm beginning to think that it's really going to happen, perhaps with an announcement at next week's WWDC to start the ball rolling.  And it might be a good thing.

So what if Steve Jobs supposedly denied that there would be an app store for the Mac? You know that Apple is never straight about its future plans. Many times before, Apple (or Steve) has denied the existence of strategies or products, only to introduce it a few months later.

Here is why I think the Mac app store idea is ripe to happen. First, there's the removal of the link to the Apple downloads page from Apple's website. You can still get there from the  menu, and they are maintaining the page again after a bit of a mysterious hiatus, but the page and its family are clearly not being "pushed" by Apple.

Musing about an Indie Developer Referral Marketing Coop

Occasionally we send out referrals for other software from fellow Indie Mac developers in our monthly mailings. As a way of helping our users/friends to find out about cool software, and also as a favor for our developer friends, we will include a blurb about the other developer's product(s) in our mailing. Often we'll arrange with the developer for a coupon code we can mention, so that our readers get a special deal by buying the application using our referral.

Sometimes this is a one-way thing, where we just mention the application because we like it so much, for the good karma of doing so. Other times, we have made agreements with the other developer that they will put in a reciprocal mention of our product in their mailing, so that we scratch each other's back.

Of course it's quite possible to set up a commission kind of deal for this kind of thing, though we have only done this once or twice. As long as it's still a genuine recommendation, I don't have any ethical problems about doing that; we all have to make a living and doing so is a way to bring in another stream of income.

How to turn people into walking billboards for your company

John Fox's MemoryMiner has a cool gallery feature, so I took John up on his idea for a blog post. Only somebody like Justin Williams (Cocoa developer, and also, I'm told, a popular singer who is quite a sensation with the young ladies) would be able to pull something like this off!

(Apparently a lot of developers will be bringing promotional buttons to WWDC. I thought about doing that for Karelia but I'm worried that idea has already "jumped the shark."  What kinds of swag would be better?)

"10 Marketing Resources…" is also Useful for Mac Apps

I ran across this article, 10 Marketing Resources Every App Should Provide. Though it's geared toward Web-based applications, it has some good advice that should apply to Mac applications as well. (In fact, you'll see a familiar icon in Tip #2 that is a Mac application!)

Note to self: Make sure we are doing all 10 of these on the Karelia website! :-)

The AppStorm website may be worth browsing around; they have a Mac section that looks very nice!

Dropbox Presentation

I came across this wonderful presentation by Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, linked via the ever-useful twitter feed @smashingmag. (So useful, in fact, that I don't actually folow the feed — I subscribe to it in NetNewsWire, using a script I wrote that turns the embedded URLs into links for the feed itself so it's easy to open the linked pages. But I digress.)

Dropbox Startup Lessons Learned

This presentation has quite a few gems. Some particular favorites of mine:

  • Search is a way to harvest demand, not create it.
  • Typical Dropbox user: Hears about Dropbox from a friend, blog, etc. and tries it → "I didn't realize I needed this" → "It actually works" → Unexpectedly happy → tells friends.
  • Three types of markets: existing, resegmented, new.  Marketing tactics for one market fail horribly in others.
  • New strategy which worked well was to encourage word of mouth and viral spreading.

It's astonishing how Dropbox was able to enter an already crowded field and come to dominate. Their word-of-mouth techniques worked rather well, of course. (It's interesting to note that Dropbox used to have a paid referral program but they no longer do. I guess they felt they no longer needed it.)

You can draw your own conclusions from how Dropbox did it to your own business.

"Running a MicroISV" video talk

I came across this video by Jonathan Freeman of WidgetPress from a CocoaHeads Atlanta meeting a couple of weeks ago.  Thanks to Scotty and Foxy of the MDN Show for pointing out this video.

You can skip until about the four minute mark if you don't want to hear a lot of company history, and really the main point of the talk doesn't start until 12:00.

Of course he covers a lot more than just marketing in this talk. The content that is related to marketing includes understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and website analytics, giving out special information and licenses to bloggers, issuing press releases, and making yourself known in the Mac community. He also introduces a good technique to paying attention to how much money your company is making on an hourly basis (which, to me, is helpful when judging when you should consider paying somebody to handle some tasks for you, as I mentioned in my previous post.)

Overall, some good advice! I, however, will not be trying to emulate his getting up at four in the morning!

Getting Help So You Can Focus on Your Strengths

Some recent discussion on the MacSB list about what kind of system people recommend for handling technical support got me thinking that what is important for dealing with support is not what tool, but who is doing it.

One of the best things that has happened for us engineers at Karelia is when we found somebody who could handle front-line technical support for us. If you can hire somebody, part-time, to handle your support inquiries (and, as it often turns out, sales inquiries as well), and insulate you from all but the most complicated cases, it means that you can focus on the engineering that you are good at.

Taking this step is a critical early step for an indie developer to go from struggling to successful, especially when he/she discovers that once their software is released, they hardly seem to have time to do development any more!  Last year at WWDC, we were chatting with Kevin Hoctor about doing this, and look at where he is now! You're welcome, Kevin.

What does this have to do with marketing? OK, maybe this is just a little bit off-topic, but really the idea here is that if there is something that you are not that strong at, and you would rather focus your time on something that you are better at, then you should find some help.  And of course that means marketing as well as tech support.

An interview with John Fox, creator of MemoryMiner

John Fox

This interview with John Fox of GroupSmarts, LLC is the eleventh in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Paul Kafasis, Gedeon Maheux, Justin WilliamsGus MuellerDaniel Jalkut, Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Really young. If you look at the original photo you will learn the interesting story about it.

John Fox (@djembe on Twitter) is the creator of MemoryMiner, a cool application used to "discover the threads connecting peoples' lives across time and place." His professional background is Digital Asset Management (or DAM). At his prior company WebWare, he created a rather sophisticated web-based application used by the likes of Martha Stewart, Sony Pictures, Harvard Business School, et al. to organize, distribute and track the usage of their valuable digital media. Over a 12 month period starting in 2003, the confluence of several life-changing events (his father died, he got married, and had a child) made him want to put his skills towards more humanistic endeavors, and thus was born MemoryMiner. His goal with MemoryMiner has been to create a great tool for the recording and sharing of individual life memories which in turn could be aggregated on a massive scale. The end goal (which he admits is a huge undertaking) is to create a network of first-person accounts of modern society and culture that can be browsed by people, place and time.

An Interview with Paul Kafasis, Rogue Amoeba

Paul Kafasis, Rogue Amoeba

This interview with Paul Kafasis of Rogue Amoeba is the tenth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Gedeon Maheux, Justin WilliamsGus MuellerDaniel Jalkut, Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.

Rogue Amoeba makes cool applications like the home audio streamer Airfoil, Audio Hijack Pro, the Radioshift audio recording tool, and the audio editor Fission. Paul Kafasis, whose title is CEO/Lackey of Rogue Amoeba, was kind enough to talk about marketing from his perspective.

While not in front of a computer, which he admits happens too infrequently, Paul enjoys/suffers through distance running, reads voraciously, and attempts writing humor. He can be found on Twitter as @PBones.

DW: First off, can you explain what you do at Rogue Amoeba?

PK: I handle the myriad tasks that let our top-notch programmers keep programming. That's a litany of things, from marketing and PR to interviews to all sorts of boring paperwork. Probably what I enjoy most is product design and development, working with our coders and designer to determine what we'll include in a new app, or an update. This sort of process takes knowledge gained from talking to customers, reviewers, reporters, and more, and distills it down, to shape what the future will be. I find that fascinating, and rewarding.

Getting another $n * 0.93


One of the main goals when selling software is getting people to be aware of your product so they will buy it. Ideally, everybody will buy it at full price (let's call this $n) but not everybody is going to be finding your application through word of mouth, search queries, links from websites that mention it, and so forth.

There are something like 25 million Mac users out there, probably more, who could conceivably buy your application. But the fact is, a good 99.9% of them have never heard of your application and won't buy it.

So even though it would be cool to get just a few more users at $n per license, it might be worth reaching some small percentage of that 25 million people who weren't going to be paying you anything otherwise.  This is why it's often useful to do discounts and sales (getting you an additional 50-90% of what you make on normal-priced sales), daily promos (an additional 20%-30%), or perhaps bundles (peanuts per license, but hopefully a few extra thousand dollars) to reach some of those otherwise unreachable people and make them paid users of your application.

iPhone App Store SEO

A while back, I wrote a post "15 Suggestions for Marketing your iPhone Application" in which I suggested you work on having a website for your iPhone application so that you can get found in Google.

While a lot of this is still relevant, I did notice the article "App Store SEO: The Impact of iTunes Web Preview" which shows that Apple's new, rich web previews take care of a lot of the criticisms I had of their launching pages.

I still think it is a good idea for an iPhone (or iPad, for that matter) developer to have their own website, where they have much better control over their content and can do more to convince the website visitor how cool your application is. But at least Apple's change will help as well; the advice in the article I've linked to is good stuff!

Track Your New Customers with Cookies


It's possible using any number of website analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Mint, or just the tools that may be provided by your Internet host, to get a sense of how people who visit your website found out about it. It's a great way to see what your major referrers are.

I've been a bit more interested in how people who actually end up becoming customers originally came to our website. This one is a bit tricker, because it means tracking visitors all the way from their first visit through their purchase, but it is more revealing.

How can you do something like this for yourself? Well, it depends a lot on how your store works, but I'll outline the basics.

First off, you need to set a cookie when they arrive at any page of our website and the cookie has not yet been set. Just save the value of the HTTP referer [sic] header. If the value is empty (such as when somebody types in the URL, or clicks on a link to your website from an email message), I find that it's better to set a placholder like "direct" so I know for certain that we didn't have a known referrer. If the cookie is already set, don't replace it; they may come back to your website more than once, but it's (probably) the first referrer that you are interested in knowing about.

Smashing Mag's Marketing Your Mobile Application

One of my favorite websites these days is Smashing Magazine. Generally geared toward web development and designers, it has enough tidbits that keep me subscribed to their RSS feed and their prolific Twitter stream.

Today they featured "How To Market Your Mobile Application." I wanted readers to know about this, not only because many Mac developers are also iPhone developers, but also because its advice is good for Mac developers as well! In fact, there is little in the article that is specific to mobile or iPhone apps. So go check it out!

An Interview with Gedeon Maheux, the Iconfactory

Gedeon Maheux, Iconfactory

This interview with Gedeon Maheux of the Iconfactory is the ninth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Justin WilliamsGus MuellerDaniel Jalkut, Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.

I'm sure everybody reading this blog knows about the Iconfactory, a design/software company based in North Carolina (with branches in California and Sweden). While fellow developers probably know (and look up to) Craig Hockenberry, inventor of the CHOCKLOCK, I thought it would be best to talk to Iconfactory's main marketing person, Gedeon Maheux, about how this über-cool icon design, icon, and Mac/iPhone software business gets the word out about their products. Ged blogs and tweets, of course.

DW: Can you start by telling our readers about the kinds of marketing activities you do at the Iconfactory?

GM: We've experimented with different types of marketing over the years, but the tried and true ones that work best for us include:

An Interview with Justin Williams, Second Gear Software

Justin Williams, Second Gear Software

This interview with Justin Williams of Second Gear Software, is the eighth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Gus MuellerDaniel Jalkut, Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.

Justin Williams runs the one-man software shop called Second Gear Software.  His products are Today and Check Off. He obsessively blogs at CarpeAqua and it also very active on Twitter.

DW: Can you tell us some of the marketing activities you do?

JW: I'll first confess that I'm not entirely comfortable with my marketing activities at this time.  Part of this is due to me not really having much experience with it, but another part is that like many, I have a negative connotation to the word marketing.   I am so bombarded with marketing and advertising (good and bad) every day that I always second guess what I do in terms of marketing.  

(1) Newsletter: This is my favorite marketing venue.  I send out a monthly newsletter that highlights what I've been working on in the past month as well as offers some tips for using both Today and Check Off.    I recently added support to both apps to prompt the user to subscribe to the newsletter on their first launch, which has offered a nice uptick in the amount of subscriptions.  

An interview with Gus Mueller, Flying Meat Software

Gus Mueller, Flying Meat Software

This interview with Gus Mueller of Flying Meat Software, is the seventh in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Daniel Jalkut, Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.

Gus Mueller is the founder of Flying Meat Inc, located just north of Seattle in Everett, Washington.  Flying Meat has created a couple of award-winning applications for the Mac; Acorn, a bitmap image editor (which I love to use for graphic manipulation that I don't need a real artist to do for me) and VoodooPad, a personal wiki.  Gus being a self-admitted man of few words, this is one of the shorter interviews of this series!

DW: Can you tell us some of the marketing activities you do?

GM: I don't do any traditional marketing, at least on purpose.  I guess I've got an account on twitter, and I have a blog that's reasonably well known, and Acorn was in MacHeist last spring.  But that's really about it.  I tend to rely on word of mouth sales, and getting noticed by the mac pubs.

An Interview with Daniel Jalkut, Red Sweater Software

marsedit tweet

This interview with Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software, is the sixth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Rich Siegel, Oliver Breidenbach, Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.

Daniel Jalkut, Red Sweater SoftwareDaniel Jalkut is the founder and de facto CEO of Red Sweater Software, where he develops MarsEdit, a blog editing app, and several other products. On his company blog he writes about marketing, software development, and the general thrills and perils of being an indie Mac developer. When he's not painstakingly developing — and marketing! — his company's products, he enjoys playing guitar, running, and endlessly striving to perfect the home-baked pizza.

Red Sweater old logo(I've actually known Daniel — at least online — since before he became an indie developer, when he worked at Apple, probably around 2002.  Even back then, there was a red sweater!)

DW: Can you tell us some of the marketing activities you do?

DJ: I consider marketing to be a very soft art and try to market my products and business on as many fronts as possible, but in a fairly casual way. For some reason the phrase that pops into my head right now is a play on the title of that book you recommended about A/B testing.  “Always Be Marketing” sounds like a pretty good catch-phrase for the kind of attitude I try to keep in mind as I'm developing the relationship between me, my company, and the rest of the world.

You Should Have an Email Marketing List


A couple of months ago I wrote a post suggesting that indie developers set up a customer mailing list. I figured that it is such an important topic that it was worth revisiting.

This post is a sort of grab bag of suggestions and tips.

There are so many good reasons to have an email marketing list:

  • If somebody comes to your website, or downloads your application but doesn't buy it right away, they can join your mailing list, and get to know you and your company a bit more. And then, perhaps, become a customer.
  • You will have a base of current and potential customers to notify of your upcoming products and releases.
  • You can cooperatively promote your fellow indie developers' software programs. By introducing cool software to people on your list, they will appreciate you, as will your fellow developers.
  • You can provide tips and tricks for the users of your software.  Even if your subscriber doesn't own the software you mention, they will see that you are proactive and helpful to your customers, and be more likely to become a customer in the future.
  • Your subscribers may want to forward your emails to other people, thus netting you more subscribers.
  • You have a base of people to solicit ideas from, have take polls, sign up for beta testing, etc.
  • You can show off some of your users' productivity. For instance, we like to spotlight a couple of customers' Sandvox-built websites each month.
  • You can keep your company and your products in the back of people's minds.

Some General Suggestions

Don't just make your newsletter for your customers.  There are a lot of people out there who may not need your software, but are curious about what you are up to, or maybe are looking forward to the next great application you write.  These are your potential customers, and you are much more likely to sell to them than to somebody who you are hoping will wander onto your website.

Make your signup form easy to find on your website. Really easy. You want to capture people who are just window-shopping, not really in the buying mood.  Catch them while you can! 

(I have gone to some indie websites, knowing that they had an email list, but sometimes it took me 5 minutes to find the form, or I gave up completely!)

A Comparison of 16 Bulk Email Marketing Services

(If you are just arriving at this post, I recommend you check out my post from November suggesting that you set up a customer mailing list, and my post immediately following this one, You Should Have an Email Marketing List.)

This is a comparison of a 16 online email marketing services.  With a little help, I dug up as many email bulk senders as I could, so that I could compare their prices.  It's hard to compare these prices because their ranges never quite match, so I decided that putting them into a table form would be the best way to get an overview of the prices.

Nearly all of these services charge you a monthly fee, with a few offering discounts for annual or semi-annual plans.  But there are two very different pricing models, which has caused me to break this down into two tables.

Note: These prices are current as of mid-January 2010. They will probably change! Be sure to verify prices by visiting the websites.

The first pricing model is per-subscriber.  No matter how many emails per month you send out, you will be charged a fee based on the number of subscribers in your list.  This means that if you only send a newsletter out from time to time, you may not be getting a good deal.  If you send messages out frequently, then these can actually be quite nice.

Rich Siegel, Bare Bones Software


This interview with Rich Siegel, President/CEO of Bare Bones Software, is the fifth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Oliver BreidenbachJacob GorbanJean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor. (Is there an indie developer/company you'd like to see featured here? Leave me a comment and I'll do my best to feature them!)

Rich Siegel is the founder and, after all these years, still the President/CEO of Bare Bones Software, known for its long-standing BBEdit and more recent Yojimbo. He lives in Rhode Island with his family, including four parrots (two of whom he claims are "too smart for everyone's good"). Like most indies, Rich works out of a home office, which presents interesting opportunities and challenges. He enjoys music and can claims to be able to use dangerous power tools without injuring himself or others. His personal website is absolutely not

I cornered Rich over email and managed to get some of his thoughts about marketing.

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