Last month we checked out Papermill, an Instapaper client for Android that's arguably the first to offer a sleek, design-led experience. At the time, developer Ryan Bateman told us that he didn't think he could really get away with the $3.99 price (plus required Instapaper subscription) as a business proposition, and the app was developed as a portfolio piece as much as anything. It looks like he was right — he's posted a detailed update of the project on his site, and the sales figures for the first few weeks haven't been fantastic. The app had sold 441 units on Google Play as of March 30th, with 79 orders being cancelled or refunded, plus five sales through the Amazon Appstore. Bateman estimates that the time spent creating the app would equate to development costs of around $30,000, by which metric it'd take Papermill over five years to make a profit at the current rate of turnover.
"[Android] users opt for a free but less refined experience."
Bateman subscribes to the belief that the average Android user is less willing to pay for premium apps than iOS users in general. While Android benefits from a huge userbase, by creating a premium, design-focused app Bateman was only able to target a relatively small section of the market. This is borne out in his device logs — over 40 percent of his sessions came from handsets running Android 4.0, despite Ice Cream Sandwich only accounting for 1.6 percent of devices as of a month or so ago. Papermill is built around the Android 4.0 design guidelines, and Bateman feels that he is essentially developing for a small audience of quality-conscious users that are willing to pay for a well-designed experience. Given the success of Instapaper elsewhere, it would seem that that audience remains larger on iOS for now.
Update: Some people were evidently given the impression that Bateman's no longer developing Papermill because of some of the issues he detailed. He let us know that definitely isn't the case, telling us "I love developing it and don't intend to stop anytime soon."