Amazon Underground was an Android app offered by Amazon through which people can freely download and obtain in-app items that they would otherwise have to pay money to purchase. Amazon has used the catchphrase "Actually Free" to describe the policy, and affirmed that Amazon Underground is not a one-time or temporary offer but is here to stay. Participation by app developers in the program is voluntary. Amazon compensates app developers based on the time that users spend within the app, at a flat rate of $0.002 per user minute.
Amazon announced on April 28, 2017 that the program will cease accepting new apps on May 31, 2017 and will shut down completely in 2019.
Consumers interested in using Amazon Underground can download the app from the Amazon website. The app cannot be downloaded from Google Play, Google's Android app store, since it violates the conditions necessary to be listed in the app store.
Once the consumer has downloaded Amazon Underground, they can download all apps participating in Amazon Underground from within the Amazon Underground app. In addition to being able to download the app for free, the consumer can also make "in-app purchases" for free.
For app creators
An app creator can choose to participate in the Amazon Underground program. The app creator receives payment based on the time spent by users in the app after downloading it, at a flat rate of $0.002 per user minute in the app.
Amazon has listed the following eligibility requirements for participating apps:
- The app must be available for download from the Google Play or Apple App Store, and be monetized in at least one of the following ways:
- The app is available to purchase for a fee in all other app stores where it is sold
- The app contains in-app items that are available for purchase for a fee.
- The app must not contain any subscription in-app items.
- The features and gameplay of the Amazon Underground version must be substantially similar to or better than the non-Underground version.
- When submitted to the Amazon Appstore, the app must be made available on at least one non-Amazon mobile device.
Amazon Underground is a good fit for freemium or premium apps, but Amazon advises against using it for the following apps:
- Apps that run continuously in the background
- Apps that are completely free (freely available, no in-app purchases)
- Apps that are monetized through ads
- Apps that support streaming, such as radio apps
- Apps containing subscription services
In addition, Underground is not recommended for modified versions of an app that have removed in-app purchases, or that have modified their gameplay by removing in-game currency, or premium apps whose only premium feature is being ad-free.
Monetization by Amazon
Amazon pays app creators based on the total time spent by users in the app, at a rate of $0.002/minute. In order to monetize Amazon Underground, Amazon shows ads when a user first downloads an app, and occasionally on each subsequent opening of the app.
In April 2017, Amazon announced the program would close to new apps at the end of May 2017, and shut down completely in 2019.
Amazon Underground has been critiqued for being much smaller than the Google Play app store, making it of limited utility as a standalone source for getting games.
Goat Simulator has performed well on Amazon Underground, leading Wired writer Brian Barrett to argue that the lack of need for payment may make the app particularly appealing to children, for whom even a small amount of money requires parental consent.
Amazon Underground has been praised for helping developers focus on creating engaging in-app experiences rather than worrying about monetizing through in-app purchases. It has also been praised for helping all developers make money right off the bat in direct proportion to usage, compared to the in-app purchase model that only some kinds of apps could make significant money off of. Commentators have compared it to the Kindle Unlimited plan where Amazon allows readers to read books for free from a diverse collection of authors and then pays authors based on the fraction of their books read.
A report by IHS Technology highlighted the following key challenges for Amazon Underground:
- The challenge of user acquisition, in a world where many apps were free for initial download and monetized through in-app purchases
- Economics that would not fit the needs of all apps
- Strong app store competition, and the fact that Amazon Underground does not come pre-installed on any non-Amazon devices (the bulk of smartphones and tablets)
- "What's New with Amazon Underground?". Amazon.com. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Moscaritolo, Angela (August 26, 2015). "Amazon Underground Offers Apps That Are 'Actually Free'". PCMag. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Barrett, Brian (August 29, 2015). "Has Amazon Cracked the Problem With In-App Payments?". Wired Magazine. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Lowery, Victoria (March 15, 2016). "Will Amazon Underground Change Revenue Model for Developers?". Inquisitr. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- "Johannes@Amazon" (April 28, 2017). "Underground Actually Free Program FAQ – 2017 Update". Amazon.com. Retrieved May 18, 2017.
- "Amazon Underground". Amazon.com. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Brewis, Marie (August 27, 2015). "How to get genuinely free Android apps and free Android games". PC Advisor. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- "Understanding Amazon Underground". Amazon.com. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Dillet, Romain (August 26, 2015). "Amazon Underground Features An Android App Store Focused On "Actually Free" Apps". TechCrunch. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Singleton, Micah (August 26, 2015). "Amazon launches Underground to promote free apps and games. The Free App of the Day program has also come to a close". The Verge. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Barrett, Brian (April 9, 2016). "Amazon Underground, a New Kind of App Store, Is Blowin' Up". Wired Magazine. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
- Kent, Jack (October 7, 2015). "Amazon Underground innovates with free apps but faces challenges". IHS Technology. Retrieved April 26, 2016.