Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Markets as Match-Makers

If you ever wanted to create an app and put that app in front of millions of eye balls, then Apple's App Store presents an amazing opportunity. I published an educational game, Chocolate Chip Cookie Factory: Place Value, to the App Store back in September and, with little to no marketing push on my part, have sold thousands of copies in dozens of countries. Someone in Hong Kong gifted it to 80 friends and the International School of Milan has recommended it to parents for use at home. It's a bit like pushing a button and having your product sold in every Walmart around the world. How cool would that be?

Now imagine that everyone and their uncle could do the same, and the local Walmart was a giant warehouse with miles of shelving. There may be a million people out there who would happily buy my game if they ran into it, but most never will. When creating a market, it is not enough to make sure that the shelves are amply stocked and people are coming through the doors; you also have to make sure that the right products and the right people manage to find each other.

People have been saying for years now that the Google Play Store was on the verge of overtaking the App Store in terms of developer focus and resources. The tipping point was always right around the corner. Eric Schmidt predicted that it would happen by the summer of 2012 (the same summer that Google TV would be installed on the majority of televisions sold in Best Buy). Developers would just have to develop for Android first once the Android market was so much larger than the iOS market... or so the logic went.

Android marketshare is now 4-5 times larger than iOS marketshare, but developers still aren't prioritizing for Android. At best, apps are released on Android and iOS simultaneously. Rene Ritchie makes an interesting case that many iOS developers won't simply follow the numbers because of their passion for the Apple way. But what would happen if the App Store shut down completely and all of its users moved to Android? I would argue that many iOS developers would go out of business. Not because they would rather leave the mobile app game than develop for Android (though that certainly might be true for some), but because they could not compete in the new market.

Let's call Apple users and developers hipsters (the word has lost all meaning, so no harm in co-opting it here). The App Store is hipster nirvana; it is super easy for hipsters to find each other. Not only that, but most tech reviewers are hipsters as well, so they are constantly promoting the latest hipster apps. Apple is famous for curating the apps it chooses to sell on its App Store, but it also curates its users through its branding.

If everyone moved to the Google Play Store, how would the hipsters find each other? Google certainly isn't going to be promoting any hipster apps, and hipsters aren't going to want to comb through hundreds of utility apps to find the next Instagram. In markets, density counts, often more than mass.

Last month, Zach, the CEO of School Yourself, mentioned over lunch that he was searching for talented curriculum developers but couldn't find any. In fact, the quality of the educators that he was interviewing was really discouraging. I told him that I had stopped applying for or even noticing job postings for curriculum developers because they invariably wanted someone with much less experience or expertise than I had. Curriculum writing is viewed as a commodity, and large publishers often felt like it was easier and cheaper to train someone new. They did not want anyone who might disagree with the big name subject matter expert or principal investigator leading the project.

Because it was so difficult to sift through all of the crappy openings looking for the few good ones, I eventually stopped looking. And because good curriculum developers stopped applying for openings, companies looking for really good curriculum developers stopped posting them. Poor match-making killed the market. Reviving it is going to be a little tricky.

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