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October 17, 2018Jennifer King
From launching startups to helping build a $3 billion e-commerce giant, 20-year software veteran Jeff Bolton knows a thing or two building a business. When he first learned about Alexa, he was intrigued by the possibilities of building a new company based on voice technology. That curiosity eventually led him to start Voice Apps, a voice design studio focused exclusively on Alexa skills.
Bolton’s catalog of 88 Alexa skills began earning Alexa Developer Rewards almost immediately. But when in-skill purchasing became available, Bolton saw an even greater opportunity to monetize his popular skills by delivering premium experiences.
“The rewards program let me earn enough money to get my business off the ground,” says Bolton. “Now, with in-skill purchasing we have a whole different level of capabilities to directly monetize the skills our customers know and love.”
Bolton began selling premium content in the form of annual subscriptions for his popular Sleep and Relaxation Sounds skill. The subscription gives customers exclusive access to certain features and content, and customers are responding positively to the upsell—43% of customers who are offered the subscription have opted in to purchase it. The skill also maintains a 4.8-star rating since Bolton introduced the premium experience. And his voice business is growing faster than he imagined.
“In-skill purchasing provides us a more reliable, more traditional, and more predictable type of revenue stream,” says Bolton. “For the first time, I feel we can control our destiny as far as running and growing our voice business.”
In two years, Bolton has built a portfolio of popular Alexa skills that have earned him significant payouts from the Alexa Developer Rewards (ADR) program, which is a program that pays developers for building highly engaging skills. In fact, his first check from ADR was for $25,000, which led him to start Voice Apps. But when Amazon introduced in-skill purchasing, he saw enormous potential for a more predictable and scalable income stream to accelerate the growth of his voice business.
“In-skill purchasing can provide revenue that’s less dependent on a bonus structure like Alexa Developer Rewards,” says Bolton. “We know that if customers purchase our in-skill subscription at a certain rate each month, then we can predict and optimize how much we're going to earn.”
Bolton selected one of his most popular skills, Sleep and Relaxation Sounds, for his first foray into in-skill purchasing. The free version of this skill allows customers to select from over 125 ambient sounds—from thunderstorms to whales and wind chimes—to help them relax and sleep peacefully. Bolton enhanced the skill to offer customers an annual subscription for $9.95 a year—a real value at a mere $0.83 per month, according to Bolton. The in-skill purchase unlocks exclusive features and content, including premium versions of all sounds, 75 additional sounds, the ability to combine different sounds, sleep stories, and guided sleep and meditation features.
The approach is working, and Voice Apps’ monthly revenue is rising. He is seeing conversion rates of up to 43%. And adding in-skill purchasing to the skill hasn’t hurt its ratings in the Alexa Skills Store, either. Now closing in on 10,000 reviews, Sleep and Relaxation Sounds maintains an average 4.8-star rating.
“We've had a fantastic response, and we're getting positive feedback from customers every day,” says Bolton. “People love the premium experience and are very happy to pay for it.”
Bolton offers some suggestions to developers offering in-skill purchases. First, your skill has to fill a real everyday need for customers—creating a virtuous habit that customers value. Second, you have to keep the content (including content available to non-paying customers, as they are your future paying customers) fresh, updated, and compelling to ensure your customers keep coming back. And finally, an in-skill purchase should offer customers a premium experience that gives them even more of what they love.
Now Bolton is offering Alexa developers more than expert tips. He has expanded Voice Apps to provide tools that help others build Alexa skills to meet customers’ needs and grow their own voice businesses.
“After developing more than 100 skills for ourselves, as well skills for other companies and individuals, I saw a great need out there for more tools to help people build Alexa skills,” says Bolton. “So, we took all our experience and built our own skill-building tool at VoiceApps.com.”
VoiceApps.com is a visual, drag-and-drop platform that lets anyone—regardless of their background—build and publish Alexa skills. The freemium service extracts most of the complexities of building and deploying skills and provides access to even advanced Alexa skill capabilities. Users can monetize the skills they build with VoiceApps.com by adding in-skill purchasing, directly within the tool.
“In-skill purchasing will allow all developers to take their skills to the next level,” says Bolton. “We’re very excited that VoiceApps.com now makes building, publishing, and monetizing skills even quicker and easier for everyone.”
You can make money for eligible skills that drive some of the highest customer engagement with Alexa Developer Rewards. You can also make money with Alexa skills using in-skill purchasing or Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills. Download our introductory guide to learn more.