How Amazon's 'actually free' program could change the game for Android developers

When Amazon recently said it would change the way it pay writers whose work is available on Kindle Unlimited based on how many pages consumers read, the literary world flipped out. The authors of books aren't accustomed to being tracked so granularly, and to some it seemed unfair because there are plenty of people who buy books they never read, but want to save for later (or for some kind of bragging rights).

The same is not true for mobile apps -- we don't have friends admiring all the unused mobile games in our smartphone "libraries" -- which is why Amazon's "actually free" category in its new Amazon Underground app store sounds intriguing. TechCrunch summarized the news:

"Amazon has partnered with thousands of developers to make 'over ten thousand dollars in games, apps and in-app items' actually free. These apps are usually paid apps, but Amazon found another way to compensate the app developers. The company pays developers based on how long you use a certain app. Amazon monitors per-minute uses while developers waive in-app purchases and upfront costs. This model is also reminiscent of music streaming services, such as Spotify, Apple Music and Rdio."

It's also very much in keeping with the increasing emphasis smart developers are putting on mobile app analytics and optimizing their strategies to boost engagement as well as retention. Without the distraction of mobile ads, or trying to gently introduce in-app purchases, developers using Amazon's "actually free" program may prove once and for all if the product they've created is compelling enough to generate loyal users. In some cases, it may be a scary wake-up call.

I don't for one minute believe that this will see more developers leaving Google Play to offer their Android games solely within Amazon Underground, but it could be a great way for them to experiment and iterate. For example, perhaps a mobile game will use ads and IAPs on Google Play, but also be available and "actually free" in Amazon Underground. Looking at the relative success or failure across both stores could be the best A/B test that developers have ever had. 

And, of course, if Amazon's approach proves successful, it would not be long before Google would follow suit on Google Play, or even Microsoft and BlackBerry. (Apple is another story. Monetization tends to be fairly decent on iOS to date.) It definitely provides more justification than ever for devs to treat their apps and mobile games more like an ongoing campaign than a simple product, because small tweaks and adjustments could make a difference. And, if Amazon Underground's approach is correct, every second they invest in these efforts will literally be worth it. --Shane