Fake Ads as a Business Model

Making a living on the App Store is a challenge. Some indie developers have added “tip jars” to their apps — in-app purchases that users can buy to give the developer some money, without getting anything in return. I don’t know how well this model works for most developers, but my guess is not well at all.

In episode 18 of Under the Radar, David Smith mentioned that the tip jar in his Pedometer++ app did indeed perform poorly at first. Perhaps not surprisingly, more people started paying as soon as David added advertising to the app; a donation through the tip jar would also remove the ads. Here’s what he said (paraphrased, starting at 04:30):

[Pedometer++] didn’t launch with [ads]. Initially, it just launched with the tip jar. I introduced ads after a while because the tip jar, while I liked it conceptually, didn’t do as well, at least until I added ads to it.

And once there was both the carrot of “Hey, support me, this is great”, and the stick of “I’m going to show ads in the app unless you pay”, the combination of those two led to a much more robust adoption of the tip jar. It’s been working much better since then.

[Before adding ads] I’d find I’d launch a big update and I’d get this little wave of good will and then it drops to almost nothing. So that didn’t really work in the long run.

That makes total sense. And it made me think if this would be a viable business model for one of my (fictional) apps. The problem is I really hate advertising, so I would probably not add ads to my app. I simply wouldn’t want to expose my users to tracking, nor would I want to support the ad industry in general.

Basically, the idea is to intentionally annoy your users enough so that they give you money.

But what about fake ads? Why not add a distracting (but totally fake) rotating banner to the app whose sole purpose is to induce people to pay to get rid of it? There would neither be user tracking, nor would you have to add shady third-party code from a dozen app networks to your binary. Used creatively, you could even make the banners funny and use them to give your app some character (Carrot Weather comes to mind).

The more I think about this idea, the more I like it. It’s almost like a trial version. Sure, I’d give up the advertising revenue, but I could certainly live with that. Has anybody tried something like this?