iTunes App Store Categories and the Top-Sellers

I previously looked into the Top 100 Paid apps (henceforth known as the top-sellers) and found that their average price has been declining. In this post, I’ll examine which iTunes categories are producing the most top-sellers. In terms of number of unique apps, all the categories have grown rapidly over the last two months, with Sports, Education, and Entertainment posting the highest growth rate.

In the absence of download information, the popularity rankings are the best available proxy for “sales”: frequent appearances on the Top 100 Paid Apps list is a good indicator that an app is selling well. Having access to data from around the launch date of the iTunes store, I was able to focus on apps with longer track records (at least 60 days old). The number of days an app spends on the Top 100 list varies across categories:


Of the categories that produce top-sellers, Music was particularly impressive. On average, the 15 Music top-sellers analyzed were on the Top 100 list on 30 different days. (The one Weather app appeared in the Top 100 on 58 different days.) I used duration to see which categories had more proven top-sellers. Solid top-sellers have appeared on the Top 100 Paid apps list on at least 20 different days, while Marginal top-sellers have appeared in less than 10. The Marginal top-sellers have a short-term burst in sales, and are hits for only a few days.


Some categories tend to produce Solid top-sellers (e.g. Music), others produce mostly Marginal ones (e.g. Productivity).

Besides overall sales, Solid and Marginal top-sellers differ in terms of sales velocity (number of days it takes to land on the Top 100 Paid Apps list). On average, a Solid top-seller appears on the Top 100 list the day it launches. It takes a typical Marginal top-seller 5 days to achieve the same milestone. So if an app lands on the Top 100 list quickly, it’s also more likely to appear on the list frequently.

With an estimated 7.5 downloaded apps per device, iPhone users are happily experimenting and searching for useful software. While the Top 100 list is a convenient shortcut, savvier users in search of apps do so within categories. Someone in need of a mortgage app will need to navigate within the Finance category. As this short list of top-sellers illustrates, the Top 100 list is a bit like the Billboard Hot 100: it’s heavy on the pop side.

(†) While apps can be listed in more than one category, the vast majority (≈ 97%) are listed in only one.

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  • personne

    What is it with O’Reilly’s disproportionate obsession with Apple? What’s Apple’s market share again? Does ORA collectively have a “special internet” in Apple? Got shares, do you? Or did you just realize that your iPhone is just another closed product, but you can keep up the buzz by breaking out app category sales?

    Scratch that, what I mean is your research isn’t meticulous enough. I want to know who is buying flashlight apps, and where! What are the major news triggers that cause people to buy bubble wrap popping apps? THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW!!!!!

  • jay

    So I wanna know. Why is it okay for there to be tons of weather applications that duplicate the one offered by Apple, but not a podcasting one or other mail applications?

  • Tedious

    @personne : Because Apple disproportionately influences the actions of it’s competitors. If the whole industry didn’t follow Apple, neither would the news sites.

    @jay : Because “weather app” isn’t on the known list of do-not-duplicate apps (GSM phone, web browser, audio file player, video file player, and address book), nor does it break the no-other-language-interpreters (no Java, no Flash, etc.) – but mostly because it behaves itself and doesn’t try to step out of the sandbox Apple made for 3rd Party Apps (Netshare).

    In the end, only six apps have actually been pulled:

    1. I am Rich
    2. Netshare
    3. Box Office
    4. Murderdrome
    5. Pull My Finger
    6. Podcaster

    Meanwhile…. thousands have been approved. The whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, a scary story software developers tell their children.

    Can someone calculate the percentage of rejected vs accepted apps?

  • Hey the weather apps beat them all.

    Never would have guessed that.

    I must agree: another mail app would be wonderful!

  • Mike Bardeggia

    For better email on the iphone – try Gmail. The keyboard rotates for one thing.

  • Their are several apps which are better than the default apple ones, especially the for weather software. You could try some other programs to see which fits best to your needs.

  • Hamish

    @tedious Oh, so there’s a “known list of do-not-duplicate apps (GSM phone, web browser, audio file player, video file player, and address book)”, is there?

    Where did Apple publish that, then?

    Or do you mean the “guessing-game list that Apple can change arbitrarily from day to day?”