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Matt Cashatt avatar image
Matt Cashatt asked

Monetizing Echo Apps / Voice App Store

I have just become aware that it is currently not possible to monetize Echo (or Alexa) apps. This is a bit of a bummer as I have been excited to develop several voice-only (i.e. not connected to some other gadget) apps that I think would be useful to the end-user. It doesn't make much sense for me or my company to invest the resources into the development of these apps if they are free to the user and will only represent a (hosting) cost to us. Does anyone know if Amazon will be re-evaluating their stance on this? If app monetization becomes possible [b]a voice only app store[/b] would be nice. I received my Echo about a week ago and, even though I still love it, the novelty has worn off. It would be nice to be able to say, "Alexa tell me what apps are new this week" or "Alexa what apps are trending/best selling" and have her read back a short list of titles. If I were to say, "Tell me more about [title]" I could get a description, price, and option to buy. I think that the Echo is a bold and disruptive move to a brave new world of user experience. It isn't like Siri, Ok Google, Cortana, etc which requires some physical interaction to wake the service; it is always on, always ready to help & entertain. It will be very sad if Amazon let's this potential wither on the vine by not paving the way for enterprising developers to create awesome apps for it.
alexa skills kitsubmission testing certification
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April L. Hamilton avatar image
April L. Hamilton answered
Amazon's answer to date is in this Knowledge Base post, which essentially says all Skills are free: https://forums.developer.amazon.com/forums/thread.jspa?threadID=5607&tstart=0 Some have theorized a Skills Store with paid Skills will surely come eventually, but Amazon's neither confirming nor denying. I am also only interested in developing Skills that have no connection to a web service or existing site/device/technology, and I was also very disappointed to see that Knowledge Base post. When it was posted, I'd already invested considerable time and money in Echo Skills development, thinking I'd be able to charge for my Skills just like I do for my Android apps. For the time being I'm assuming I will [i]never[/i] be able to charge for my Skills, so while I've decided to go ahead and get the three I already had in development completed and certified, I won't begin working on any new ones unless they will either help to drive traffic to my website or help to reinforce my brand recognition/credibility. If an Echo Skills Store [i]does[/i] launch and [i]does[/i] allow me to start charging for Skills, I'll shift gears. But until/unless that happens, it's just not worth my time and effort.
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Matt Cashatt avatar image
Matt Cashatt answered
Thanks April, well said.
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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta answered
I think the main avenues to money are going to be tie-ins with hardware/existing sites, and in-app purchases. It would be nice to have a paid app store, but that hasn't been the main revenue driver for mobile, so I don't see it being my first choice for monetizing Alexa skills.
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Matt Cashatt avatar image
Matt Cashatt answered
Thanks for your reply jjaquinata; however, I am a little confused as to what you mean by the second part, "It would be nice to have a paid app store, [b]but that hasn't been the main revenue driver for mobile[/b]". Can you please clarify so I have another chance to catch your meaning? MC
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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta answered
I am comparing monetizing Echo applications to monetizing mobile applications. It's a comparable model for which there is much data. You can sell Mobile apps in an app store. But if you look at the ones that have made any significant revenue, that is not how they have made the revenue. There are three main ways mobile apps have been monetized 1) In-app advertising. Very popular, since it is easy to do, and leaves all the calculation to a third party. However, vendors (looking at you Google) have a habit of restriction your choices, and taking a lion's share of the proceeds. Unless you have a break-out hit, it doesn't make you much money. Although an analog could be done for an Alexa skill, it would be awkward, and unlikely to do better than in mobile apps at generating money. 2) Sales through an app store. A free/premium model for sales is the most common. You have two listings in the app store, a hobbled one for free, and a premium one for money. You then nag all free users to upgrade. If Amazon allows skills to be sold, this could be followed. But, if not, then you could always... 3) In-app sales. This is the #1 way that mobile applications make money. You produce an app that is interesting and get people hooked on the functionality. Then, to unlock further functionality, or to give them an gameplay advantage (for games) they have to pay additional money. This is brokered through the app. In the mobile space, vendors have also restricted the options here and skilled it for their own benefit (looking at you again, Google). But it still the #1 earner. There's no reason this can't be done for an Alexa skill with the current setup. In fact, I think Amazon anticipate that in their questions in the developer's console. 4) Commissioned apps. These are apps that are part of a larger ecosystem. They either drive traffic to another service (e.g. Facebook) or else are a control panel for a separately bought device (NEST). Alexa was build for this. I rather suspect this is how Amazon mostly thinks people are going to make money. It's harder to be entrepreneurial in the hardware space than in the software space, so I think many of us here in the forum overlook this. But I think it is intended to be the main usage model. Does that clarify where I was going with the mobile comparison?
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Matt Cashatt avatar image
Matt Cashatt answered
That does clarify things, thank you. Very interesting!
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James Yu avatar image
James Yu answered
Amazon could consider paying the skill developers on a per invocation basis for their efforts of making the free Alex skills, much like it pays the kindle book writers on a pages read basis.
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Steve A avatar image
Steve A answered
I agree with all you say here. But I think there are a couple ways to do "in-app" advertising for the Echo that wouldn't be so awkward, but I don't see anyone getting rich on 'em 1.) Advertising on Echo App cards. Every time a card is returned with the temperature, your schedule, etc, it comes with an ad included. I don't think Amazon allows this now...do they? And given that the skill need to be re-approved with every change, it would make it hard to rotate ads. 2.) If the app requires a sign in on an external website (e.g., to associate the Echo with user information) that website could include advertising, obviously. But since the sign in is likely a one-time thing, there wouldn't be a whole lot of traffic. It does seem that Amazon has to allow folks to make some money if they want quality skills developed and maintained. Hosting these isn't free (though I understand Lambda is close to it....)
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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta answered
I don't think there is a problem monetizing quality skills. If you truly have something people want, there are several ways to get them to pay for it. Similarly, the cost of hosting skills is really small change. I'm working on one that, if it becomes popular, would trivially pay for itself through in-app purchases. And, if it doesn't, isn't going to cost much to run. The pinch, I think, that is being expressed here is for "indie developers" who want to code up an Alexa skill, not backed by hardware sales or as an adjunct to a bigger site, and make a profit on it. For that, I agree, it's hard to make it work. Even my best app ideas won't pay for the time it would take me to write them, at market rates. But I really don't think that us "indie developers" are really who Amazon is aiming at. We're not the ones that are going to be delivering core value to Echo customers. We're kind of a nice-to-have. So I'm not sure Amazon is all that worried about this scenario. I'm also not convinced that an app-store with skills with prices on them would change things much. I'd have to sell a gazillion copies of my Echo Development book to pay for the time I've spent on it. Same for any skill I can see developing. OK. Maybe you guys have much more clever ideas than me. Ones that will sell enough that at the commission rates given for, say, mobile apps, you can retire early. Or ones that every single Echo owner (which is a much smaller number than mobile phone owners) will want to buy. If so, then I concede the point. Me, I'm just focusing on things that I find interesting, and look good on my resume. :-)
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Steve A avatar image
Steve A answered
So, that Knowledge Base post is pretty...brief. There is no in-app purchasing, yes, but that still leaves "out of app" purchasing. Are we precluded from providing a link (on a site) where interested parties can donate to help with further development of the app? Are we not allowed to have "premium" features as a thank you for those who support the app? To my mind, this seems a completely reasonable route. The skill is free, there are no in-app purchases, but users can contribute if they'd like and get more functionality if they do. What says Amazon?
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