The Pros and Cons of Different US App Revenue Models

Discover the pros and cons of different revenue models in app development. Explore the best strategies to monetize your app in the competitive US market.

Jessica Van Heerden
June 12, 2023
Blog cover image

In the fast-paced world of app development, choosing the right revenue model is one of the most important decisions. App developers need to balance app monetization strategies with user experience to ensure sustained success. This blog explores the pros and cons of various app revenue models in the US market, shedding light on their implications for app developers. 

In-App Advertising

Advertising is a popular option, with revenue coming from in-app ads and commercials. The advantages of advertising include that it's free for users, so it can maximize downloads and reach. Another advantage of this model is its accessibility, users can receive your content without paywalls or barriers. Advertising works well for apps with high traffic and user engagement. However, disadvantages include the fluctuations associated with ad revenue, which can often generate lower returns. Ads may also cause annoyance among some users and disrupt the app experience, creating churn. Research shows that 96% of consumers don’t trust advertising. You’d have limited control over the ads that get served in your app when you use an ad exchange. App development teams must work to optimize ad placement and personalization.

Freemium Model

Freemium apps are free to download but offer in-app purchases for added features and content. Freemium is good for gaming and streaming apps, allowing users to try basic features before paying to upgrade. Industry reports show that over 90% of mobile apps begin as free, and over 90% of the profits derived from mobile apps come from apps that use the freemium model. It leverages the large free download base to generate revenue from a smaller percentage of paying users. However, cons to this strategy include low conversion rates from free to paying users, usually below 5%. Developers often struggle to balance the free and premium versions, complicating app development. 

In-App Purchases

Another popular revenue model is in-app purchases, where users can make transactions within the app to access additional features, content, or virtual goods. This model offers flexibility, allowing developers to offer a free app with premium options. In-app purchases provide opportunities for upselling and can result in higher revenue per user. However, developers must strike a delicate balance between offering enough value for free and providing enticing premium content to encourage purchases.

Subscription Model

According to Deloitte, the average consumer in the US has up to nine subscriptions, spread across video, gaming, and music. The subscription model has gained significant traction in recent years, especially for content-focused apps such as streaming services, dating services, and health and fitness trackers. With this model, users pay a recurring fee to access the app's full features or content library, thus solidifying predictable revenue and a higher user lifetime value. Subscriptions offer a predictable revenue stream, foster customer loyalty, and can lead to long-term engagement. However, users may hesitate to commit to ongoing payments, and developers must consistently deliver compelling content to retain subscribers. Cancellation rates are often high, making customer retention a priority. Subscription pricing must also be tested to optimize uptake. Overall, the subscription economy has grown by 435% over the past decade. It’s the most prevalent monetization model for software companies, and it’s widespread in publishing too. 

Sponsorships and Partnerships

Some app developers explore partnerships or sponsorships with relevant brands or businesses to generate revenue. This model often involves integrating sponsored content, branded experiences, or co-marketing initiatives within the app. Sponsorships can provide substantial financial support and open avenues for cross-promotion. Additionally, if a mobile app signs a sponsorship contract with a big brand, that brand name gives the app a trustworthiness boost. However, developers must ensure that partnerships align with the app's core values and do not compromise the user experience or erode user trust. On the flip side, the app owner is bound by a contract with a brand and can’t change the app’s price. Essentially, the app’s potential to generate revenue is directly connected with how well things are going for the brand behind the sponsorship.

In summary, while in-app advertising, subscriptions, and paid downloads remain the dominant US app revenue models, each comes with significant drawbacks. The pros and cons depend greatly on the app type and target market. Developers should analyze metrics and test different models to find what works best. Creating hybrid models is also common, for example, by offering a freemium app with in-app subscription or purchase options. With millions of free apps available, following best practices for optimized app development and a thoughtful monetization strategy is key to building a financially successful app.

As seen on FOX, Digital journal, NCN, Market Watch, Bezinga and more

Scale your development team
faster with

Get in touch and let's get started
Book a Demo