Poesie: Mission, Product, and Roadmap (2020)

This document continues the annual tradition of publishing a yearly overview of progress, mission, and roadmap for the app Poesie. Our main progress over the past year included setting up partnerships with contemporary poets around the world and beginning to earn revenue via a subscription model. Our work ahead includes building more community-focused features and continuing to explore opportunities for growth. You can view last year’s document here: Poesie Roadmap (2019).

Are you a poet, app developer, or just want to connect? We’d love to hear from you! You can reach us at poesie.app@gmail.com. Poesie is available for download today on the iTunes App Store.

Background

Poesie is a company dedicated to delivering interactive, social, and educational experiences around the arts and humanities.

Poesie is a poetry-reading app, available for download on the iTunes App Store. The core service is a curated Poem-a-Day, enhanced with information blurbs and interactive features. The app also offers a searchable library, in-app profile, and community feed.

Poesie originally launched in 2018 as a simple Poem-a-Day app, curating “best of” selections from classic poetry for arts lovers around the world. Through the years, we added interactions with content, a searchable library of poetry, and profiles and community interactions. In this past year, we’ve continued to make ongoing feature improvements based on user feedback, introduced Contemporary Poetry to the app through partnerships with poets, and made the app subscription-based and begun to generate revenue.

Product

Poesie delivers core services around discovery, learning, and creativity. We are also beginning to facilitate new and exciting community interactions.

Improving and maintaining our daily poem service remains the critical work of the app. In this past year, we enhanced this service with: (a) educational blurbs to learn about the poet and poem, (b) multi-media experience, including classic artwork and audio recordings on each poem, and (c) more interactive opportunities, including uploading recordings and improved comment threads.

We also started featuring contemporary poetry in addition to classic poetry. This was by far the most common user request, and we accomplished it in tandem with a shift to charging subscription fees for the app. Since then, we’ve signed partnership agreements with poets and publishing houses around the world and have sent out our first payments to contemporary poets just this past week. The new mix of classic and contemporary poetry has shown up consistently in positive feedback about the app.

Subscriptions

Our main product update this year was shifting to a subscription-based app. In the next sections, we’ll share the decisions we made and the results we’ve seen so far.

Product indicators: We looked at three main indicators to decide we were ready to begin transitioning into a paid product. (1) Retention: We had a stable curve at 10%-15% of users active 6 months after first use; (2) Feedback: We were maintaining App Store ratings at 4.9/5.0 and getting positive feedback from surveys; (3) Sharing: We were seeing 10% of MAU sharing the app in some form or another every month.

Monetization early on: We introduced subscription fees in April. At that point, we had about 2,000 MAU. We shifted to a paid product early on so that we could develop a sustainable business model and prioritize and build features based on the usage and feedback of paying customers. Against this, we traded off growth as well as additional complexity (product, legal, and increased user expectations).

Subscription-based model: We chose a subscription model as the approach to monetization because we (a) felt that ads would detract from the product experience, (b) found it difficult to build a high-quality multi-tiered/freemium experience. It also aligns with our goal of building a product for people who are coming in with a strong interest in poetry. The subscription rate has ended up roughly around 10% for people who discover the app organically.

Financials

Sharing information around growth, revenue, and costs.

Here are what the revenue and cost numbers looked like this quarter for Poesie. I’m sharing with the hope of encouraging people who have considered starting “small-business apps” in niche markets they are passionate about! Poesie is still small, but the numbers may be useful as a reference point. If anyone is running a similar business and would feel comfortable comparing metrics, shoot me an e-mail!

Stats are from July 2020 - September 2020, our first complete quarter.

  • Sales: We saw about $6,660 in subscription sales in the quarter. Our subscription options are $1.99/month or $14.99/year, and we ended September with 870 subscribers, about 40% on an annual plan and 60% on a monthly plan. People typically discover our app by searching in the App Store, though we also get some organic sharing from users and from partners.
  • Costs: We have three main costs: App Store fees, poet payments, and operational costs. App Store fees are 30% of (first-year) sales, the revenue agreement we offered carves out 15% of sales for payment to poets, and our basic operational costs in the quarter came out to around 5% of sales. So before taxes, that leaves about 50% of sales for salary and additional expenditure.

We were fortunate to be featured on the App Store a few time this quarter, contributing to large lifts in our sales. Some of this revenue will be retained in recurring subscriptions going forward, but we don’t expect to repeat those one-off leaps. We didn’t spend any money on advertising this quarter.

Roadmap

Our main goal for the next year is to continue developing product features that transform Poesie into an exciting community experience.

After focusing a few years on the independent reading experience, we will now explore more features around community experiences. Since we’ve addressed feedback around the reading experience, brought in great content, and are retaining more users, it becomes possible to focus on community aspects of the app.

A few features that we think will help Poesie feel like more of a community space:

  • Identity: Help you develop a sense of identity on the app. You can both curate this identity for your own enjoyment and bring it to interactions with other people. Examples include setting profile artwork, collecting badges that help you track your explorations around the app, and better ways to showcase your original content.
  • Interactions: More ways to interact with other users around content in a way that feels productive and supportive. For example, building chat rooms where you can read and discuss with others who are reading the same poem in real-time. As we mentioned above, more ways for poets and readers to interact would be great.
  • Content: Continue bringing in content (and improving design) to help the app feel like a unique and special place for you to spend time, learn, and and discuss with others. For example, more types of poetry collections and featured content to help guide people through our library. We could even host live readings or facilitated discussions one day!

Growth: We focus on three main areas for growth. (1) App Store: Most of our installs come from App Store search, so we continue to aim for great ratings and reviews. We are #2 in the search for “poetry” now. (2) Ads: Our last round of ads was on the cusp of a rough “profitability” cutoff. We revisit a few times a year, iterating on copy and observing conversion rates. (3) Sharing: We continue to build better sharing tools, which is both great for our readers and for reaching new people. We’ve also begun to see poet partners re-share our posts on social media— opening up a new way to reach people who want to use Poesie.

Summary

Over the past year, Poesie has proven its potential to be a viable business that supports the arts. How much can it grow?

Our shift to a subscription model has proved that there is potential for a profitable, self-sustaining app that can help bring revenue to poets around the world. We weren’t sure if this was possible — so it was reassuring to see that people were willing to pay for content and support the mission. With the leap into contemporary poetry, we have begun to develop relationship with poets in addition to readers.

We want to continue the journey by evolving the product from what is mostly a personal experience into a thriving, engaged community. As always, keeping in mind other potential major next steps, like new partnerships with journals or content providers, launching on additional interfaces, or providing new types of services on (or off!) the app.

I love music and literature. This is my app: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1332841582.

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