On the monetization of mobile apps

Gil Appel, Barak Libai, Eitan Muller*, Ron Shachar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Though the mobile app market is substantial and growing fast, most app providers struggle to monetize apps profitably. Monetizing apps is done in two ways: a) selling advertising space within a free version of the app, and b) selling a paid version, termed freemium or in-app purchase strategy. In this paper, we present a framework for monetization of mobile apps, using two central empirical regularities concerning the relationship between users and their mobile apps: a) Sampling: While consumers have some prior knowledge of their fit with the app, they remain uncertain regarding their exact utility until they are using it; and b) Satiation: The utility of using the app may decrease with time. While work on the monetization of digital goods has largely overlooked the role of satiation and the consequent retention issues, we show that in combination with uncertainty, it elucidates the role of the segments of consumers that download the free vs. paid version of the app, and how to balance these two segments so as to monetize mobile apps. We encounter two distinct scenarios: In the first, advertising drives most of the revenues; while in the second, revenues are driven by the paid version of the app. We explain how uncertainty and satiation affect the prevalence of the respective scenarios and impact the share of revenues from the paid vs free version of the app. We also demonstrate that an app provider can profit from offering a free version with ads even if advertisers are not paying for these ads. In other words, the app provider benefits from offering a “damaged good” version of the app that includes ads, even if this version is free to consumers, and the advertisers are not paying for the ads.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-107
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Research in Marketing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Advertising
  • Freemium
  • Mobile apps
  • Online strategy
  • Pricing
  • Retention
  • Satiation


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