Aussie Android developer says stung by Amazon

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Aussie Android developer says stung by Amazon

Q&A with co-founder after explosive blog post.

Australian Android app developer Shifty Jelly has threatened to boycott the Amazon Appstore after an alleged policy reversal by the retailer that shafts developers on revenue-sharing.

The company has posted a lengthy blog post criticising Amazon's promotional system.

Amazon offers developers the 'free app of the day' slot on the main page of the website.

Despite initial promises that Amazon would feed developers 20 percent of the selling price if an app was given away for free, Amazon has allegedly changed the system, meaning developers agree to give their apps away for free with marketing as the only benefit.

While Shifty Jelly was aware it wouldn't get paid, it agreed to run the "app of the day" promotion as an "experiment", according to the blog post.

On the chosen day, it said, the app was downloaded more than 100,000 times, leading to an increase in support requests and other problems without the firm gaining a cent in revenue.

Now, the firm is looking to pull the app and only sell it via Apple and Google directly. We spoke to Shifty Jelly developer and co-founder Russell Ivanovic to find out more. (Amazon has yet to respond to a request for comment.)

Q. You explained why you took part in the promotion – as an experiment. But why would anyone else agree to do it? Surely developers can say no?

A. Of course developers can say no. There are two issues we have with this, though. Firstly Amazon's public-facing statement is that we get 20 percent of our requested price, even if they give the application away. That's the agreement they tell everyone about, that's the agreement you sign-up for.

We've had hundreds of emails from people along the lines of "I always thought Amazon compensated developers for the Free App Of The Day"; some people even said they downloaded apps they didn't need, just to support the developer. Their 0 percent agreement is private, and comes with a strict non-disclosure clause (which we technically violated by publishing that blog post).

Secondly, developers – and especially so Android developers – are desperate for exposure. They are competing against thousands of other developers worldwide, and often making very little money. While I agree it's up to them to say yes or no, I'm sure you can see how we consider it to be predatory when a giant company like Amazon says “forget about that 20 percent thing, take 0 percent, but think of the exposure this will get you. We are the biggest game in town! By the way you're not allowed to talk about this with anyone else.”

As a desperate developer, that seems like a deal you should take, even though it's against the original deal you signed up for and could possibly hurt you badly.

You also assume that exposure is good, and in some cases it may well be, but for small developers like us it was quite brutal. To my mind, Amazon is trying to compete with the Google Market, which comes installed on almost every Android phone, and it is doing this at the expense of developers.

Q. Have you heard anything from Amazon since you posted your blog and pulled out of the store?

A. We've heard nothing official from Amazon. When we contacted the company requesting to remove our application from its store, it said that it wouldn't do that, unless we first removed it from every other store operating in the US. Apparently this is written into our developer agreement.

On every other store, there's a button I can push at any time that removes our app from sale. We can't tell you how crazy that sounds to a developer who's been working with other app stores, including Apple's, since day one.

Q. Do you know of any other developers having similar problems?

A. The only other developer we knew about at the time of writing our blog was the guy we linked to in our blog [BitHack].

Since then though we have heard from both developers and publishers saying that this is just how Amazon operates. Not one person contacted us to defend the company, and all of them pretty much said that's what happens when a large company like Amazon throws its weight around.

The publishers - as in book publishers - were the biggest surprise, they seem to feel that they've been mistreated by Amazon since day one.

Q. What changes would you need to see from Amazon to bring you back to its app store?

A. It would take a lot, but something would be to put control of the price back in the hands of the developer (Amazon can sell your app for whatever it wants at the moment, you only get to request a price) and allow developers to remove an app from sale whenever they want to.

It could publish its review rules and guidelines more openly, allow developers to opt out of having their descriptions re-written by Amazon, and provide error reporting to developers, so we can fix problems, like Google does in its store, and sell outside of the US.

In general I'd like them to go through the same transition Apple did, to become more open and friendly to developers. I think at the moment it is taking its well-documented approach to how it deals with book publishers and applying that to developers.

Q. Have you had any problems with any other app stores?

A. Of course. We had many problems with Apple in the early days, before it became more open and published its rules… These days, though, it is a pleasure to deal with, and has really gone in leaps and bounds to respond to our feedback and provide a good developer experience.

Google we've had a few issues with too – the main one being there's no way to contact the company really. If you have a problem you might as well shout at a mountain. It also has issues with its payment system, where it just doesn't seem to work for everyone.

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