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Amazon building its own Android App Market?

A look at the pros and cons of an Amazon-run Android market.

Update: The terms & conditions for developers to sell via Amazon have been leaked.

Speculation abounds that Amazon is planning their own storefront for selling Android apps, one in which they, not the developers, will set the price and decide which apps to feature (and which apps to exclude from the store all together). It’s a shrewd move and smart strategy for Amazon, though its impact on app sellers is less certain.

Unlike the iOs App Store, the terms of sale for the Android Market have always been non-exclusive — meaning developers are free to sell their Android apps in other places (we’ve taken advantage of that by including Android apps in many of our ebook bundles on oreilly.com, sold alongside access to PDF, EPUB, Mobipocket, and DAISY formats). Initially I wasn’t clear what Google’s intent was by taking that route, especially since parallel markets of any scale would mean developers needed to agree to terms with multiple marketplaces. But Amazon’s entrance actually makes sense for Google as well as for Amazon and likely for many app sellers.

Android’s open nature has driven its popularity among users (Google says they activate upwards of 100,000 new devices a day), as well as among carriers and device makers, but that openness has a price — carriers in particular have modified it to both forcefully include their own “crapware” software that cannot be removed (except by doing things to the phone that likely void your warranty) and to forcefully exclude apps they don’t want on their network (the Skype app isn’t available in the Android Market on T-Mobile phones).

While the carriers likely see the current situation as an opportunity to build their own tightly controlled versions of the Android Market, that non-exclusivity opens the door for companies that (a) know retailing and merchandising much better than Google, (b) aren’t in the awkward position of having to play nice with the carriers, and (c) have a global presence independent of carrier coverage and relationships. Enter Amazon.

Though we’ve taken issue with Amazon around the rendering quality of Kindle (and for their stubborn insistence on a proprietary ebook format), they’re a phenomenal ecommerce company, and I buy more from them (especially via their iPhone app married with Amazon Prime) than I’d care to acknowledge. Before iTunes went DRM-free, Amazon is where I bought most of my music. Even our ebook bundles are actually served up to customers via Amazon’s cloud storage and delivery software.

The current Android Market — actually Markets, since several carriers have customized it to their own ends — have a long way to go to match the customer and seller experience of iOs. Amazon knows ecommerce better than just about anybody, and the kind of collective intelligence filtering they brought to books would be a big leap forward for app discovery. But I’d caution developers eager to get their apps in front of more buyers via an Amazon store to carefully review the terms and conditions to make sure they’re entering a relationship with a retailing behemoth like Amazon with both eyes open.

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  • RichardL

    One characteristic of Apple’s AppStore is that it has no “long tail”. The vast majority of app sales belong to the top 10% of apps (average 75000 downloads per app). And sales drop off very quickly from there. The median app (50th percentile) sells about 1000 copies. It’s not surprising that this mirrors the hit music business from which the AppStore evolved.

    Amazon has a very different e-commerce history. It was on Amazon where the “long tail” was observed — i.e. volume of obscure titles outselling best sellers.

    Perhaps we will see a very different kind of app marketplace under Amazon.

  • http://twitter.com/xneo2001 Henning

    Unfortunately, Amazon does has to play nice with the carriers since they sell the Kindle 3G…

  • david

    The last sentence if this article is the most important. We don’t need another store. Just a better checkout and discovery system.

  • http://www.authormob.com Jason Halberstadt

    I hope amazon does do it’s own android store. The current on is pretty lame compared to apple app store, and paid apps are available in very few countries.
    This would be great news for ebooks sold as apps. We’re just launching a ebook to app service for iphone and are working on android too. Get a free beta invite here: http://authormob.com/appBuilder/ And user this invitation code: AuthorMobLaunch