Google has introduced new options to the Chrome Web Store, designed to make it easier to allow developers to charge for apps, extensions and in-app purchases. But will anyone be able to make any money that way?
The changes announced by Google today add to an existing set of Google-supported paid-for options across the various ways in which you can develop for Chrome. The biggest change is that Google is now allowing developers to charge for Chrome extensions, via either an up-front subscription payment, a subscription or through in-app payments. The same in-app payment option has also been added for packaged Chrome apps. Google is also now allowing the selling of themes, and has enabled free trial options for both packaged apps and extensions.
Managed In-App Payments (to use the formal name) are handled via Google Wallet, which immediately highlights one challenge: it's not universally available. Australia is one of the supported countries, but there are lots of exceptions. Nonetheless, the ability to manage in-app payments via your developer dashboard, rather than needing to handle them separately, is a welcome improvement.
However, those improvements don't do anything to alter the basic reality: people mostly expect extensions and apps to be free. We love extensions, but it's very rare to think of one that's worth paying for. (The most obvious exceptions are VPN options like Hola Unblocker, but even then the majority of people stick with the free version.)
Late last year, Lifehacker compiled a roundup of the best Chrome packaged apps. There are lots of good choices there, but every single one of them is free. That's the landscape you're competing in: free dominates.
A more realistic prospect is to sell in-app purchases (common in games, but also an option in any type of app for unlocking additional services or removing advertising). That's actually the dominant way which developers make money from mobile apps, accounting for more than 90 per cent of revenue on mobile app platforms. There's no reason to assume that the proportions will be any different for Chrome-based apps.
What may well be different is the amount of money spent. Customers are used to spending (small amounts of) money on mobiles, but that habit isn't as well-entrenched on the desktop. Chrome is the dominant browser, and Chromebooks have effectively taken over the netbook space, but that doesn't mean it's an environment where people automatically want to spend money.
None of this means building Chrome apps and extensions is pointless. If you're working on a freemium model, then it makes sense to offer as many engagement models as possible, and increase the likelihood that people might convert to the paid service. But do your sums carefully, and don't assume huge sums of money will flow in right from the start. If you can make pessimistic assumptions and still create a workable business plan, you're well on your way.
New monetization and publishing options in the Chrome Web Store [Google Developers Blog]