Is App Income Reliable Enough?
App reskinning is just a venture that can either be profitable or a complete failure. It all depends on how you approach and keep the venture going. Some get into reskinning for fun; some to develop a budding career and then there are those who want to play the game. No matter what role you play in this industry, your success will depend on how much you’re willing to risk and how ready you are to lose.
How much would you really earn?
Source codes in some mobile app marketplaces include information about the amount that it earned for its owner. Most of the time, the figures are accurate but there’s no assurance that you can earn more or even close to that amount. But while it isn’t very reliable, these figures can help in ascertaining the earning potential of your reskin.
Most of the time, app reskinning is promoted as one of those new age passive income opportunities – not as a quick-rich fix. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any reskinners that made it big. Let’s take a peek into real developer app income and learn how they maneuver their way into the competitive industry of app development. (Hint: Some luck is needed!)
A Look into App Income Reports
Reskinner No. 1: Chris Punke (Made his $30 crap out $1,673.73)
Punke decided to give reskinning a try after the world became crazy over Flappy Bird. He doesn’t like the game but he thought that he could have fun creating a clone similar to the ones he always sees in the app stores. In short, Punke wants to spoof the hit app. He bought a $30 source code from Ragdog Studios. It was a complete source code. The only thing Punke needed to do was change the graphics and sound assets. His app reskin was done after 8-10 hours. He called it Crappy Bird because of its – crap.
There were a couple of setbacks. First, the review process lasted for more than a week. When Punke finally published his reskin there were already lots of Flappy Bird clones in the App store. Three of these clones were also called “Crappy Bird”. One of the authors of the Crappy Bird clones started to heavily promote his app. He was leveraging on people who were constantly searching the app stores for anything close to Flappy Bird. Punke benefited from this heavy advertisement as people started searching for “Crappy Bird”, increasing his own reskin’s exposure. As a result, he earned considerable amount before his reskin tanked out a month or so after.
Reskinner No. 2: Walkabout Media, LLC (Just keep on going)
The man behind Walkabout Media, LLC is Harlan. He quit freelance work and started generating passive income through self-publishing, app development, and YouTube marketing. His income reports aren’t that impressive (sometimes he earns nothing for a month from his projects) but he’s actually not discouraged by it. Take for example his April and May 2015 app income report (below). Some of his apps that had gone live late 2013 weren’t earning much to make mention. But he kept on reskinning and he now has 11 apps in the App Store – apps that he reskinned by himself.
It’s not impressive but it’s actually how the numbers for some app developers looked before they found success.
Reskinner No. 3: MoneyFromApps.com (Source code test)
The “20 Line Slot Machine” source code was bought from BlueCloudSolutions.com for $750. It’s not cheap but since it’s a source code from Carter Thomas, Lee Rankinen and Justin Malik (the duo that runs the blog) took a shot at it. You can see below that they haven’t broken even the source code’s cost yet. But another reskin using the same source code would only cost $60 (their estimates).
Not Bad. Image Source
These are just three app income reports representing common scenarios in app reskinning. Sometimes big revenue would come as a surprise and sometimes it can become disappointingly low to only pick up after a few months (like what happened with Flappy Bird). The app stores’ volatility is a big factor in an app’s performance. That’s why a comparison is not that reliable as a benchmark especially with app reskins.
Estimating App Income
App monetization models aren’t created equal. Even the way you use different monetization models impacts not only app income but also user experience, impressions, click through and retention.
Things are different with app reskins since retention rates are commonly low. Consecutively, download and revenue could tank after a month – really bad. This is actually normal since the initial boost of the app’s release is already gone. But this time is also a great time to test monetization models. How much would ads and in-app purchases amount to if your app tanked and you hold on it for a year? Would it be enough to give you a steady income?
For an app reskin where you spent $980 (including the source code and outsourced work without any allocation for advertisements), the least amount you can earn using different monetization models can be:
- A paid app that costs 99¢ with 1,000 downloads in the first month and 5 downloads a day in the succeeding 11 months can still earn you $2,643.30. Based on statistics, the average revenue per download of an Android app is $0.01875 and $.1 for the Apple platform. So if your app had 2,670 downloads, the average revenue for Android will be $50.0625 and $267 for Apple. But also according to statistics, the average downloads per app is 60,000 for Android and 40,000 for Apple. So an average Android app will make about $1,125 and $6,000 for the average Apple app.
- In-app purchases have an average conversion rate of 1% – 5% with some games reaching up to 10%. If the app had 1,000 downloads in the first month and 5 downloads a day (average freemium app download is about 10 a day) for 11 months this will be 2,670 downloads total. Calculating downloads with a 3% conversion at $14 per transaction (overall average), you’ll be earning $1,121.4.
- Stanford Venture Lab has a generalized formula for calculating mobile ad revenue. It’s a long formula but it boils down to the number of impressions and users who retained the app in a certain length of time over other influencing factors. The result reveals that for every 100,000 app users, the ad revenue will be $12,240. So, if there are 2,670 downloads for a year, the ad revenue will be $326.808.
But there are different advertising models (CPC, CPI, CPM) that are used by different mobile advertising networks. Degrees of effectiveness varies depending on the average eCPM (effective cost per mille). Below is a comparison of the performance of popular ad networks.
* Ad Networks eCPM (iOS and Android) July 2015. Source:
** Based on a case study as advertised by Tapjoy. Source:
The formula for eCPM is, total earnings/impressions x 1000. Most mobile ad networks don’t disclose average figures (regional and global) for some metrics like impressions and click-through rates (CTR) that are important in estimating future app performance and revenue.
Estimating an app’s revenue can be tricky especially if the factors aren’t constant. It’s comparing a fixed price to CPC and CPI rates that change from campaign to campaign. As seen on the sample app income reports, reskinners are often near or slightly above the median in terms of revenue. This is not accounting the number of live apps that a reskinner has at the same time. But the cost of app development wasn’t considered in the statistical comparison of revenue over downloads. So it could mean that a reskinner has more leverage even to a regular indie developer since on average app reskinning would cost anywhere from $100-1,000 while an app made from scratch would cost around $1,500-250,000 depending on the complexity.
But as what the numbers are showing, reskinning only offsets the cost, but not necessarily increases profit. The problem of profitability and sustainability in the app development industry is not only limited to reskinners. Even some app development companies are struggling to get out from the app poverty line.
The App Poverty Line
About 60% of app developers are considered to be below the app poverty line. These app developers earn lesser than $500 a month – an amount not even enough for subsistence much more in covering development costs. Only 10% of app developers are in the “safe zone”, earning about $10,000 a month. Reports say that app stores cannot sustain the rising population of developers and their apps. It doesn’t help that indie developers and small app development companies are seeing it harder and harder to compete with the app stores’ “Top 1.6%”, composed mostly of the big names and earning more than twice than that of the rest of the other developers combined.
Many reskinners are in the App Poverty Zone. Image Source:
With this in mind, it seems like app reskinning cannot become a main source of income. Former reskinners that are now selling source code earn more than the reskinners they cater to mostly because the risks are almost non-existent. But this doesn’t mean that there’s no chance of making it big, the probability isn’t just cooperating – yet. But there are actually ways to make reskinning pave your way into success.
How to Stretch App Income
Volume is the key. The first reskin you publish may cost up to $1,000 but publishing another reskin of the source code can produce a real profit. You can save a lot if you did these things in your first reskin:
- Buy a multiple license source code. You can reskin to your heart’s content and if the first app reskin fails, you can just tweak some aspects of the reskin like slight changes in the UI or sprites.
- Buy in bundles. Graphics and sound assets that come in bundles can save you not only money but also time. You can tweak the assets (a few color changes here and there) to mix and match them with your next reskins.
- Find good outsourced work. There is no shortage of freelancers to outsource – it’s harder to find a freelancer that would suit your needs and expectations. You may have hired a great graphic artist but his style doesn’t suit your tastes. You’ll waste time and money while being unsatisfied with the output. This will make you lose the advantage of fast publishing. You can save as much as 40% from the amount you spent on your first reskin. But if you want your next reskin to be quite different from the first, it would take almost as much time as the first reskin. An app created from scratch would cost as much as 10-20 app reskins so it’s still a bargain.
- If your app starts to tank and updates aren’t helping in lifting up the numbers, pull it out of the store and repackage it, giving it a new title or other features so that it can benefit from the boost that a launch creates.
- Set your goals into scaling from the beginning. If you’re just thinking of making app reskinning a new source of passive income, you would almost subconsciously take things slow with minimal risks. But if you want to make it big, you should keep the mindset of growing the business model from the very beginning.
- Never cease to track your app. App analytics can actually give you good insights into your targeted market and how people that download your app behaves. Tweak and rework your ASO and ad filters from time to time to adjust to seasonality and keyword trends which can boost your downloads. Also, by tracking your app’s performance, you can immediately see what doesn’t work like an underperforming ad network or in-app purchase.
Online passive income opportunities had come and gone in the past decade but some are still profiting from it. After the fad is gone, only those who are willing to work hard and have a clear perspective for growth would remain. The numbers may not be promising right now but it doesn’t mean that it would never be. Just like the Android app developer, Maty who waited for more than two years before his apps took off. Maybe the real investment in app reskinning is the time it would take before you finally master the app stores and not the cost of a single app – which if you think of it, is a better ROI.
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