Friday Night Forum: Piracy Puts a Dent in Paid App Sales

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With the mobile app business generating a whopping $10 billion a year, everyone wants to get in on the action. Piracy has long been a thorn in the music, movie, and video game industries, and pirates have now turned their attention to apps, particularly for Android devices.

Olga Kharif of BloombergBusinessweek reports that concerns over piracy are forcing many developers to take a freemium approach. Alternatively, other developers hope to curb piracy by enticing customers with new app features and updates.

We want to know: Has piracy cut into your app sales?

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This entry has 10 replies

  1. buder says:

    To answer the main question of ‘Has piracy cut into your sales?’ the answer would be probably but exactly how much is hard to say. Most of the folks pirating the app wouldn’t have bothered with paying for it anyway so is it really lost revenue? Sure, it’s wrong and upsetting but quantifying it in a monetary sense is rather difficult.

    What I did with my more recent game apps is I uploaded my free, ad-driven versions to a notorious torrent site. No where in the torrent/app did i say it was the free version or anything. The goal was someone else would be less inclined upload their own torrent of my paid version if they thought it already existed. On top of that I am getting downloads that could generate revenue from ads. It seems to have mostly worked aside from my inability to properly monetize via apps 😡

  2. Inna says:

    Thanks for sharing! That’s an interesting approach.

    Just curious – did you experience most of the piracy on Android?

  3. buder says:

    As far as I know, only in the Android world.

  4. Tom says:

    Buder, I have to say you read my mind and I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve said in your opening paragraph.

    I believe there are a number of contributing values to the hot topic of app piracy that journalists rarely delve into, instead taking the easy route of sensationalising the great loss of the developer at the hands of the dastardly pirate. One such article posted on Wired a few months back cited SEGA’s Championship Manager as having 90% of it’s downloads pirated which, at first glance sounds shocking, then when going to the Play Store and noting the lofty asking price of £6.99 (roughly $10), it’s hardly surprising that all but the most ardent fans are simply not willing to part with their cash. Pricing yourself out of the market is one of many ways that one could expect to see piracy rates of their app go on the rise.

    Assuming however that you’ve done the very best you can to ensure your app is of high quality and appealing to a sizable audience (in content, pricing, etc) then I feel it is simply a matter of damage control. You will never quash piracy as it is simply ingrained on internet culture, so you would be wise to factor it into your business model as best you can. Buder’s method is a sharp example of “if you can’t beat them, join them” – the more you try to shut the pirates out, the harder they will try to break the door down, possibly in even greater numbers.

    Here’s a question – Rovio claims that Angry Birds has been downloaded over a billion times – out of those billion or so downloads, how many of those have been illegal downloads? The number will surely be one to make folks wince, but it’s hardly a chink in their armour when they have such a strong franchise and wide ranging business model to rely on.

  5. Mo says:

    @Budder, I agree with Inna. That’s a VERY interesting approach! I love it! Do not resist, actually use it! My guess is that you could make a special free version of your app and uploaded to Torrent and see how much ad revenue you get from it vs. the regular free version.

    Again a very interesting take. Thanks for sharing. Oh, by the way I agree that it is pretty futile to fight but with freemium apps it is a good way to make revenues no matter what.


  6. Weilies says:

    i heard that, there is a way to re-engineer the app, remove the Ads and put to those torrent side.

    So, it means even you upload your app for free (with Ads), eventually it will turn completely free (with no Ads).

    I am sure this happened for Flash but not sure it’s true for iPhone App 🙁

  7. buder says:

    @weilies, sure if you decompile it and remove the ads. That is not a trivial matter but it is a possibility.

  8. Tom says:

    i would like to have piracy level only at 50% but i had 99.8% … that is a problem

  9. Nick G says:

    It’s difficult to quantify lost revenue of Piracy. Buder touched on it, and I agree. A lot of pirated material, is downloaded by individuals who would have never paid for it to begin with. From what I have seen, Android is completely rampant with Piracy where iOS is faring MUCH better. The fight to clamp down jail breaking on iOS devices is proportional in some regards to piracy. Cydia, the iOS jailbreak marketplace so to speak, holds a lot of those materials, but can be found on torrents as well. Soon as the jail breaking slows down, the piracy slows down.

    That’s yet to happen yet.


  10. Don’t listen to people who whine that they lost so much money on piracy. That’s BS. It’s part of the game. Like people already said: People use pirated copies BECAUSE THEY CAN.
    If they couldn’t , they probably wouldn’t even know about your app/game in the first place, and they would never have paid for it. So don’t worry about that, and focus on more positive things. Its a subject that returns every now and then since the last 30 years, and its a useless conversation. Play the game by it’s rules. Piracy will never end, just accept it and move on. Just my 2 cents guys!