The problem with in-app purchases

Posted on June 8th, by Liam in App Development, Blog. Comments Off on The problem with in-app purchases

The problem with in-app purchases

4 Ingredients

4 Ingredients went to #1 in iPhone in Australia last week.

update: version 2.3 is now live and addresses the main issue some users had with the in-app purchase ‘recommendations’

The bad reviews are NOT justified ✭✭✭✭✭ (v.2.3)
I have this app and I adore it. It’s been a while since I bought it but I imagine that the issue people are referring to when they say it’s a rip off is that for $2.99 you have most likely bought 4 Ingredients 1. The green book and the first in the series. There are a number of books available and if you are being told that you need to pay another $2.99 to view a particular recipe then that would be because it’s in another book. If you pay the $2.99 you will get the whole book. Not just that single recipe. I agree that you really shouldn’t be able to see the other recipes if you can’t access them but let’s face it, these guys are running a business and it’s a good advertising technique. Hey $2.99 for a recipe book that is at your finger tips no matter where you are? BARGAIN in my eyes.I have the entire set available through the app store (4 books in total) and can’t wait for the rest to be available. AND I can see every recipe!! The recipes are easy to follow, great in terms of cost and brilliant if you need to find dinner in a hurry after the shops have shut in the weekend. Just use the recipe builder with 4 ingredients from your cupboard or fridge and you’re done.Seriously, all these negative comments are really unfounded. Try contacting the developer next time if you’re having problems (I did when I got a new phone and thought I had lost all my books). Liam was really helpful and explained it clearly how to find them. And no I don’t work for the company!! I just think they have a great product and don’t deserve the negative feedback.

I’ve always thought that a good app was one that received mostly 5 star and 1 star reviews. Like a good book you either love it or hate it. People generally don’t have an opinion about something that’s mediocre – at least they don’t bother writing a review. So when 4 Ingredients was mentioned on Today Tonight (a popular Australian TV ‘current affairs’ show) over 2500 people downloaded the app in a few hours, propelling it from top 20 in Lifestyle to #1 overall. The eBooks also went to the top of Food and Drink on the iBookstore.

4 Ingredients is a well known brand in Australia, producing some of the most popular cookbooks here, and the app has consistently ranked in the competitive Lifestyle category since release in 2009. It’s not a $0.99 app, but sells as a ‘niche’ app for $2.99 with in-app purchase available for 3 other books which unlocks those recipes. The printed and eBook versions sell for 3-4 times the cost of the in-app purchases.

eBooksThe app comes with 340 recipes from book 1 installed and the app description mentions: ‘In-app purchase more recipes from 4 Ingredients 2, Gluten Free and Kids’.

As an app that sells to the ‘4 Ingredients’ community – people who likely already have at least one of the books and participate on their Facebook page (35,000 followers) – it received good reviews:

4 Ingredients 
OMG, best App EVER. I use this app all the time, not only to find a recipe, but the recipe builder function is amazing, being able to menu plan which then creates my shopping list. Awesome job 4 Ingredients. You have given to busy families the ability to plan and cook wholesome tasty budget friendly meals. And to think after the initial purchase I can then get the other books for only $2.99 amazing, a whole cookbook for only $2.99. Can’t thank you enough. Keep up the great work it has saved me not only $$$$$ but time in the kitchen also.

My new best friend ! 
Great book! Easy and tasty with stiff you have at home. No wonder it’s sold over 1 million copies. Even a guy like me can cook great food. Must buy! Version 2. Is even better, now have purchased all the books…. Love Kids and this app gives you so much more!

For those outside Australia, 4 Ingredients are a self-publishing phenomenon here. From their website:

In a little over 4 years, 4 Ingredients has grown from an idea that was refused by every publisher in Australia, and by all but one book distributor because we were not famous, the book had an ugly green cover (which was a direct marketing strategy by us, but according to the experts wouldn’t sell, as green jacket books don’t sell) it had no pictures, “How would anyone know what the recipes were meant to look like?” and we weren’t chefs! In addition it was 2007, and the market was flooded with cookbooks, cookbooks representing the largest component of all books published in western nations.

With a tremendous amount of determination and hard work, 4 Ingredients has gone on to;

  • * Become the co-author of the biggest selling self-published title in Australian history with over 2,500,000 sales of our first cookbook 4 Ingredients
  • * Having the biggest selling book (across all genres) in 2008, even outselling J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • * Film two TV Series for the Lifestyle Channel on Cable TV, that has now been sold into 22 countries around the world, in a number of languages
  • * Released five more 4 Ingredients branded cookbooks and written a further two cookbooks to be released by Christmas 2011
  • * Launched 4 Ingredients into the UK and Ireland and more recently the USA
  • * Sold Foreign Rights into 6 languages
  • * Released a cookware range, 4 Ingredients by Silverstone
  • * Developed an iPhone app that has had over 35,200 downloads[1]

When the app went #1, I had mixed feelings because I anticipated negative reviews – the same sort of reviews you get when you make your app free for a period of time. However, what I wasn’t quite ready for was the level of anger and outrage in the reviews because of the extra content that was only available via in-app purchase.

Blah blah blah!!! ✭✩✩✩✩
How do i give NO STAR!!!! First time I have felt the need to review an app and it’s rubbish… We r Aussies just give us the full price and leave it at that. Don’t con us with your updates and add ons. Blah. Never again. Have already deleted it. What a sad joke.

Not worth it ✭✩✩✩✩
I was very disappointed to find out so many recipes advertised have to purchased in addition to this app! Misleading and deceptive conduct indeed. The one redeeming feature is the recipe builder which allows you to pick an ingredient and find matching recipes – but overall this doesn’t redeem the other shortcomings of this app.

I want my money back ✭✩✩✩✩
Terribly misleading app that wants you to pay for recipes after you pay for the app. Hugely disappointed. Just put the app up for $15 and give us all the books instead of a cheap nasty marketing stunt like this. Very dishonest app.

Worst app ever!!! ✭✩✩✩✩
You have to pay for the recipes after already paying for the app! What a rip off!!! Do not buy this app!!! I want my money back!

4 ingredients ✭✩✩✩✩
Very disappointing that many recipes are locked until you purchase. I always get sad if I buy an app and then feel scammed by ongoing expenses to really utilize the app.

For many users, $2.99 is more than they are used to paying for apps and not everyone is accepting or familiar with in-app purchases. But I think the issue was that the recipes that were only available via in-app purchase were also visible in the app when users searched for recipes. In some cases – with some searches – only those ‘greyed out’ recipes were returned. Implementing it this way was a mistake, and has been further compounded by some users thinking that when you made an in-app purchase you received only one of the recipes from a particular book. This confusion was caused by the notification to in-app purchase another book of recipes when you tapped on one of the ‘greyed out’ recipes… and users made their thoughts known by leaving a review.

Absolutely disgusting rip-off. ✭✩✩✩✩
Shame on you. Everything I click on says “pay $2.99”. What exactly have I paid for? Nothing! I should have listened to the other reviewers. I’m really angry, I feel cheated & I want my money back!…

Disappointed that every recipe that matches costs extra ✭✩✩✩✩
After purchasing this application, I found that every time you matched your 4 ingredients and a recipe appeared, it costs around $2.99 to view that recipe. I assumed that with the purchase of the application, you would receive free recipes not at a cost, buyer beware.

Don’t bother! ✭✩✩✩✩
This app should be free for what you get.I’m not paying $3 per recipe that’s for sure.Should be 20c max!If not charge $5-10 for the whole lot.

Disappointed ✭✩✩✩✩
Annoyed with myself for not reading reviews before I bought this app. Most recipes I have searched are not available unless I buy another app! Unavailable recipes should not be listed. Very frustrating.

The development team had debated this. There was a good argument for not returning the ‘greyed out’ recipes at all; that these would confuse users or be a constant source of harassment to make the in-app purchases. However, they also alert the user to more content. If we removed the ‘suggested’ content then some searches or recipe building would return no results, which might also annoy users.

When we added the in-app purchases, we had considered producing separate apps. This would avoid the in-app purchase ‘problem’, but as we were adding a shopping list with an email option, and a recipe builder and search function, we felt that it would be better for users to have all their recipes available in one place.

Not overly impressed ✭✭✩✩✩
Prefer the first version. I don’t know whether its just me but it seems like theres less recipes now, maybe thats just because now it shows what you could get if you pay 2.99 more for the other apps, not worth it.

Great before but brilliant since the update ✭✭✭✭✭
I had 4 Recipes (the 1st) in hard copy and never really used it. Still I bought the second one in hard copy and again never used it. But once I had the original as an app I used it all the time. Was chuffed to find ALL the books in the update and so I bought the rest! Not a gluten free family not do i have kids young enough to need the kids version but I can see myself using all the recipes because it’s now so simple. The browse option is great but I especially love being able to pick an ingredient that I have on hand and find all the recipes I could make with it in a snap shot. The shopping list is going to be a god send when I’m in the supermarket too. Well done ladies. This is a 1st class app now and will be well utilized. Thanks.

In the original version, only recipes from book 1 were included and while some of the reviews mentioned it would be good to have more content available, none were as critical as the more recent reviews.

In the past week, our overall rating dropped from 3.5 stars to 2 stars.

In the end, and with this recent experience, I think we simply implemented in-app purchases incorrectly and paid for it with bad reviews. This is now being addressed in an update.

I thought I would end with some more positive reviews. I love the 4 Ingredients brand. They have an active, generous and supportive community on their Facebook page and I’ve always admired the way they have encouraged people to spend more time cooking or even start cooking for the first time.

Recommend the App ✭✭✭✭✭
Love the App. Love the books. Worthy of five stars. When you download the other books, it will sync over to your other iphone/ipod/ipad. You don’t need to purchase the other books again in order to view them on your other iphone/ipod/ipad. Definitely recommend the App to everyone.

Brilliant ✭✭✭✭✭
Love this app, makes my life so much easier. Didn’t mind paying for the extra recipes although they could’ve been a little cheaper, but still works out much cheaper than buying all 4 books. Also finds the recipe for you instead of searching through the books yourself. Brilliant!!!!

Mark ✭✭✭✭✭
I love this app. It lets you build a meal from what you have in the cupboard. I brought all the books and they are worth it. It is easy to use as well as great when the kids say I want food. You can get them to choose a meal.

4 Ingredients – fabulous ✭✭✭✭✭
The trick to this app is it’s simplicity. Just like the books it is easy to follow and something we can use everyday. There is a reason this book is the highest selling self published title, it’s practical and DOES save time and money in the kitchen. Great to use at the supermarket. If zucchini’s are on sale, select zucchini’s and all the recipes with zucchini’s come up. Practical and cheap. Don’t be fooled by reviewers who don’t understand the in app purchase. It’s as simple as….ALL OF BOOK 1 IS APP NUMBER 1, all of book 2 is app number 2, all of the gluten free app is app number 3 and the full kids book is app number 4. In essence $2.99 per app for an average of some 400 recipes per app. Your alternative is paying $19.99 for the hard cover book version.

Love it! ✭✭✭✭✭
I love this app and yes you have to pay for the other books when u get in there but for the sake of $2.99 a book with well over 300 recipes per one, it’s definitely worth it especially for the budget conscious. Im sure buying the books in the shops a far more expensive. It’s great, simple an easy to use and loving that I can pick up something at the supermarket and find a recipe in an instant. Keep up the good work!!!


  1. [1]The app has now had over 50,000 downloads

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