Launching back in 2015, Amazon Underground was an ambitious attempt to by Amazon to do just that. It offered its Amazon Prime subscribers a large library of truly free apps. Amazon would cover the cost of lost sales for each developer based on the level of engagement each app would receive. Amazon even went so far as to cover some of the in-app purchases for certain apps. This had several positive effects.
- Apps typically passed over due to premium price, like Learn Spanish Pro – Phrasebook, Office Suite Pro 8, and Monument Valley, were easily accessed by entire swath of new users.
- Covering in-app purchases meant freemium apps instantly became truly free, and enabled users to not be hindered by nickle and diming.
- Because the Amazon appstore was more selective with its apps, it avoided a glut of questionable apps that plague so many appstores.
- Developers would be paid by Amazon consistently because of the regular use of users, removing substantial risk from developing and releasing an app.
Amazon Underground was a marvelous idea, which is why it’s a shame it shut down a few months back. In many ways, Underground was the solution to one of the mobile market’s biggest problems, and no one has risen to fill the void left behind. Underground itself was an answer to an earlier attempt by Amazon to offer weekly free apps on its appstore, but expanded that concept to fall in line much like its approach to Prime Video and Prime Music – both of which, are thriving. Whatsmore, there’s precedent for such a service working with apps, as similar programs have worked marvelously in the games industry.
Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus are subscription services not unlike a hybrid of Amazon Underground and Amazon’s free app of the week program. Each serves up a monthly rotation of games to its respective games console, with each set of games being of remarkable quality. Also, there are typically promising indies plucked from the flock so they can be spotlighted by these subscription services. The same goal – of highlighting the best and offering a far cheaper alternative for trying new things – is accomplished marvelously. Rocket League went from an obscure independent game to becoming one of the largest hits of 2015. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t a featured title in PlayStation Plus. Rocket League’s predecessor had next to no engagement around it, despite being basically the same concept. That spotlight role in PlayStation Plus helped it find an audience far larger than they would have otherwise. We know that this approach can work, and that it adds value to a user’s experience with whatever platform they are using.
Amazon Underground was a marvelous idea, which is why it's a shame it shut down a few months back
We need a successor to Amazon Underground. Unlike a gaming, video, or music platform – an appstore offers you far more than just entertainment. Quality of life apps that can help you manage your day and get your life in order might not be as exciting, but people are far more inclined to try them if there’s no blow back to not liking the app after installing. While one could argue that better refund services would help lessen this issue, one need only look at the difficult nature of digital return policies with such services as Steam to realize that online refunds are going to need a lot more work. Whatsmore, a return policy will end up costing the creator of the app moreso than it even will the user who refunds it. By contrast, if you installed an app through Amazon Underground, then the developer gets credited because you installed it. Even if you never use it beyond the first installation, it’s a net positive for them. That’s a far better outcome for everyone.
We need a successor to Amazon Underground
We don’t know where the next Amazon Underground is coming from. Amazon may try again. Alternatively Apple or Google could take the lead with their own platforms. Microsoft might even be wise to include such a service whenever their next phone launches, seeing as they’ve seen similar success with their Xbox platform. It’s illogical not to have some service like this. It allows for a healthier market, encourages users try more apps, adds value to the platform the service is based on, and costs the end users and developers far less than other avenues. We have the proof it can work, now we just need someone to step up to the plate.