A study that most iPhone apps fail is being picked up by credible news outlets. This is a classic abuse of the “Man Bites Dog” principle:
When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.
The fact that most new efforts fail is not news. In recent years, we’ve seen amazed reporters discover that corporate and brand Facebook apps fail as FB developers struggle. Shockingly, most businesses fail in virtual worlds. Although small business failure rates are often exaggerated, the real numbers show that most startups fail. Without going to the trouble of actually doing research, I will make the following guesses:
- most Google advertisers fail.
- most blogs fail.
- most eBay sellers fail.
- most television shows fail.
- most movie producers fail.
- most book authors fail.
- most cave drawings fail.
I look forward to the startling exposes crafted by hardworking reporters on these topics.
Sarcasm aside, it’s interesting to consider the underlying assumptions of those who would find news in high failure rates. If these stories really are about man biting dog rather than vice versa, then the assumption must be that there is a new means of business delivery that ensures success for the majority of its users.
That of course is a flawed assumption. There is not now and never has been any way of delivering new business efforts that guarantees success in a free market. Apple does not make businesses successful, Facebook does not make businesses successful, even mighty Google does not make businesses successful. Instead, each of those companies have enabled some businesses to become successful – which is just another way of saying that they’ve given most businesses a new way to fail.
So the ultimate test for these companies is not whether they magically improve failure rates for others. The test is whether the company itself operates a profitable business. Apple and Google have passed that test with flying colors, Facebook has yet to do so.