How do Free Apps Make Money? 8 Best Monetization Models (2023)

Remember those ads that appear when you are watching videos on Youtube or banners that pop-up when visiting an online store? These are examples of how businesses monetize their websites — the same works for, not only paid but free mobile apps. Free apps are dominating the app market, with 96% in Google Play and 90.3% on App Store driving $71.3 billion in revenue. But those applications are free, so how do apps make money?

If you have or plan to develop a free mobile app and want to learn more about app monetization strategies, this article is right for you. Below, we explain how to make money from an app, and how to choose one that will work for your app.

Let's begin.

How Much Money Do Free Apps Make?

Today, the average owner of a mobile device uses 7-8 applications daily. At the same time, only 5-10% of mobile app users are ready to buy a paid app, and around 98% of profit and downloads come from free mobile apps. The vast majority of mobile app users prefer to use free apps, and this number is continually rising. In the first half of 2019, the number of free app downloads in Google Play increased by 16,4% and raised $41,9 billion in revenue.

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Being more popular among users than paid apps, free apps have the potential to generate a significant profit. But how to choose the monetization model for your particular app? Let's look at tips and find out.

How to choose the best free app monetization strategy

To select the most profitable and effective strategy for mobile app monetization, you need to consider:

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Business goals. Every mobile app has its business goal, i.e., the way it solves a user's problem. App business goals impact the monetization model since users interact with them in different ways for different reasons. For instance, in-app purchases would not perform as well as a subscription for a mobile music app or, a subscription mobile is not the best option for educational apps with a lot of custom content. Thus, you can get the most profit if you apply the in-app purchases model, combined with ads.

Target audience. Knowing and understanding your target users, especially paying users, known as the money spending core, will give you a clear picture of the best monetization model. To achieve this, create a portrait of your app users, think about the functionality they might need, and try to forecast how much time they would spend in the app.

Competitors. As we said, each app solves a particular problem for the user. Thus, to select a suitable way to make money from free apps, take a closer look at competitors and other apps in your niche. There's a chance that the monetization strategy, used by other apps from your industry, will suit your business as well.

Wondering how free apps make money? Let's see what strategies you can apply to earn money from your free app.


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(Video) How Do Free Apps Make Money | 9 App Monetization Strategies

How do free apps make money: The most popular monetization strategies

Depending on your business industry and app type, you can apply one monetization model or several at once. The list of app monetization models includes:

  • Advertising and affiliate marketing
  • In-app purchases
  • Paid subscriptions
  • Freemium
  • Sponsorship
  • Crowdfunding
  • Transaction revenue

How do Free Apps Make Money? 8 Best Monetization Models (1)

Now, let's look at them in more detail.

Advertising and affiliate marketing

Seven out of ten free apps generate income from running ads and promoting other businesses. If you want to apply this most common way of free app monetization, you can charge:

  • Cost-per-mile (CPM) or cost per impression. You receive the payment for every 1,000 views of the ad
  • Cost-per-click (CPC). You receive payment when the app users click on display ads
  • Cost-per-view (CPV). You charge advertisers for the number of ad views or the number of interactions
  • Cost-per-install (CPI). You are paid each time your app users install the app you promote


As you can see, there are different types of in-app ad fees as well as methods of showing ads to app users. There are five ways you can display ads to your app users:

  • Banner Ads or Display Ads. The banner ad appears at the top or bottom of the mobile device screen so the app users can freely use your app. However, the engagement rate of such ads is quite low (0.1%).
  • Video Ads. Such ads appear during natural pauses of app usage and last 10-30 seconds. This ad category also includes rewarded video ads when the app user is rewarded for watching a full ad video.
  • Native Ads. Native ads, including sponsored content or videos, are integrated into the app layout and do not distract app users. Thus, users consider native ads less irritating compared to other types of ads.
  • Interstitial Ads. This type of ad looks like full-screen pop-ups displayed when the user opens or closes the app. Thus, the user can either close the ad or click on it to learn more about the promotion.

How do Free Apps Make Money? 8 Best Monetization Models (2)

Sponsorship and influencer marketing

This type of app monetization is similar to ads, but the difference is deeper integration to the app. Let us explain. Apart from just running ads, you can place a sponsor's logo or icon on the splash screen, footer, or integrate sponsored content with special offers right to your app. To make this type of monetization model more profitable, find sponsors with the same target audience. For instance, if you have a fitness app, you can find sponsors among fitness centers, personal trainers, or healthy diet websites.

Influencer marketing is a bit different way of sponsoring since you will deal, not with the business, but with an individual opinion leader, well known within your target audience. In this way, such an opinion leader will promote your app to fans and attract new users to your app. You can also ask an influencer to become an ambassador for your app, which is a prevalent strategy among famous brands.

(Video) Earn Money From Free Apps Online | Monetizing Free Apps #makemoneyonline #monetization #2023

In-App Purchases

With this app monetization model, you can sell different types of items, including:

  • Consumable items that the user can use within the app, such as health points or digital currencies.
  • Non-consumable items that could be used permanently, such as new games, maps, or as blocking.

In-app purchases increase user engagement rates and have users glued to the screen. This monetization method includes integrating native app store payment gateways since app stores charge 3% from each in-app purchase.



You can try making money on free apps using paid subscriptions. However, this model works for only 5% of apps with high user engagement, such as productivity or educational, music, or video streaming apps. This type of payment requires integrating third-party payment gateways such as Stripe or PayPal. Thus, app stores do not charge any commission. The app subscription works in the following way:

  • After downloading a free app, the user receives a trial period, usually a month, to try your app.
  • When the trial period ends, if the user continues using the app, they must buy a subscription.

There are two types of subscriptions:

  • Non-renewing subscriptions when the user buys an app subscription for a particular period, as in one, three, or six months. After the end of the subscription period, the user must buy another subscription manually, so there will be no unexpected bills. This type of app monetization works well for seasonal apps such as gardening, sport, or hunting.
  • Automatically renewing subscriptions means the app automatically charges user fees every month, six months, or once a year. To ensure that app users will buy a subscription after a trial period, users receive access to the app only after typing in their credit card details.

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You can make money from a free app using the freemium model, which is similar to the subscription model. The main difference is that the app user can use the free app version with basic features without any time restrictions. But, to receive an advanced feature-rich app version, users must pay monthly or annual fees. Statistics show that only 0.5-2% of app users buy a premium app version. On the other hand, a free version of your app will reach a broad audience and make your app viral.

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Crowdfunding is particularly popular among startups and has proven to be an effective way of raising money. In North America alone, crowdfunding generated over $17.2 billion during 2018. If you need to attract additional funding for app development or marketing needs, you can use one of more than 400 crowdfunding platforms where any platform user can donate money. The most popular crowdfunding platforms for raising funds to mobile app projects are:

  • Kickstarter
  • Indiegogo
  • CrowdFunder
  • AppsFunder

To launch your crowdfunding campaign, you need to complete the following steps:

  • Create fundraising goals for your campaign. Consider that your goals should be SMART- specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.
  • Craft your story to tell others what your app is about, how you decided to develop it, and what problem it solves. In this way, you will show your app's potential.
  • Create a compelling video, since video content is the most engaging means of storytelling.
  • Design a campaign page where you provide investors with a detailed description of your project.
  • Use social media to drive potential investors to your campaign.

Transaction fees

You can charge transaction fees for making money with free apps if your mobile app belongs to the marketplace segment where users transact money. This niche includes not only e-commerce apps but also:

  • Flight and hotel booking apps
  • Dog walking apps
  • Meal ordering apps

And others where there are buyers and sellers. For charging transaction fees, you need to integrate a third-party payment gateway API to your app. This task requires experience in coding, so we recommend hiring mobile app developers.

Monetization model

Works best for

Things to consider


Any type of app, except for branded apps (e.g. e-commerce)

  • Pay attention to how many ads you use in your app so it doesn’t drive users off
  • Design an app with ads in mind, so the app is usable
  • Use less intrusive types of ads


  • Apps with a broad audience
  • Apps that are about making progress, e.g. games, educational apps, fitness apps

Maintain a balance between free and premium accounts

In-app purchases

  • Gaming
  • Dating
  • Apps with separate unique features or content
  • Broad audience
  • Be clear about all micro-transactions
  • Prevent accidental IAPs


  • Content-based apps like streaming services
  • The constant development of new features or content
  • Exceptional service and support
  • Clear payments

In a nutshell

Free mobile apps have a more significant market share compared with paid apps. There are many strategies for free mobile app monetization, and each of them has a different user engagement rate and will generate a different amount of income. We recommend selecting the monetization model on the basis of your app niche, its purpose, and your target audience.

To make your free app even more profitable, you can combine different monetization strategies:

  • You can run ads and offer users a paid ad-free app version, which is a win-win situation for you and your users.
  • You can also combine in-app purchases and subscriptions, or advertising and subscriptions.

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(Video) How Do Apps Make Money From Advertising How Do Free Apps Make Money MY WORTHLESS APP MADE $20,000


How do Free Apps Make Money? 8 Best Monetization Models? ›

Free apps are monetized through various means, including advertising, in-app purchases, sponsorship, and affiliate marketing.

How does free apps make money? ›

Free apps are monetized through various means, including advertising, in-app purchases, sponsorship, and affiliate marketing.

What is monetization model for apps? ›

App monetization is the means by which app developers and publishers generate sustainable revenue via the user base of an app. Simply put, it's how an app makes money.

How do you create an app for free and monetize it? ›

How to Make an App
  1. First, You Need to Plan Your App. ...
  2. Next, Choose How You Will Build Your App. ...
  3. If You Choose to go it Alone, You'll Need to Start by Wireframing. ...
  4. Then Design the Visual Elements of Your App. ...
  5. Sort Out Your App's Back End and Front End. ...
  6. Finally, Put Your App Through Final Tests.
Jun 10, 2021

How does app monetization work? ›

App monetization is the process of generating revenue from app users. This often includes multiple strategies ranging from showing banner ads on the bottom of your app, to leveraging rewarded video ads, and applying integrated advertising methods that we'll cover more in depth later in this piece.

Why are free apps better than paid apps? ›

If your app is free, users won't lose anything by downloading it and users generally will have lower expectations. Hence, there is a greater chance of getting a good review for the quality of the app and a lesser chance of getting a bad review, simply because users didn't lose any money on the app.

Do free apps make more money than paid? ›

By now, you should have noticed the obvious trend – that free mobile apps just happen to generate much more revenue than their premium counterparts. If you take a look at the top-earning charts across the Apple Play Store and Google Play Store, you'll notice that they're both dominated by free apps.

What is an example of monetization model? ›

A monetization model is a method by which you earn money from a product, service, creation, intellectual property, or even your personal brand. For example, if you were creating an app, you could choose to add in-app purchases, charge for downloads, include advertisements, or all of the above.

What is the monetization model free to play? ›

Free to play (F2P) refers to a business model for online games in which the game designers do not charge the user or player in order to join the game. Instead, they hope to bring in revenue from advertisements or in-game sales, such as payment for upgrades, special abilities, special items, and expansion packs.

What are the most common app monetization strategies? ›

21 Effective App Monetization Strategies
  • In-App Advertising. ...
  • Free and Paid App Versions. ...
  • Free App with in-app Purchases. ...
  • Free App with Subscription (Freemium) ...
  • Paid App. ...
  • Partnership Model. ...
  • Affiliate Marketing. ...
  • Email Lists for App User Retention.
Jan 9, 2023

How do free apps make money without ads or subscriptions? ›

The in-app purchases model offers a range of products and services for sale within the app. These can range from anything, such as premium content and virtual items to actual tangible goods or merchandise. Free apps make money from this model by receiving a percentage of the revenue generated through in-app purchases.

How do you monetize a free platform? ›

How to Monetize a Website in 2023
  1. Try Pay Per Click advertising with Google AdSense.
  2. Sell ad space.
  3. Start affiliate marketing.
  4. Try donation based monetization.
  5. Sell your own products or services.
  6. Create sponsored content.
  7. Flip your website.
  8. Create membership websites.
Mar 1, 2023

What are monetization strategies? ›

A monetization strategy is a plan that aims to generate revenue via your platform, audience, content, or other sources. There are a lot of different monetization strategies. Some of the most common include selling access to the platform, selling ad space, in-app purchases, and more.

How much can a free app make? ›

How much money do apps make per download? The average revenue per app download varies significantly but the average is $0.60 to $1.20.

What are the benefits of free apps? ›

Apps that become more valuable with a larger user base, like social networking apps, should consider freemium. Successful free apps are those that have a wide appeal and can capture thousands upon thousands of users that companies can then monetize effectively through in-app ads or purchases.

What is the advantage of free apps? ›

Free Apps generally receive more downloads than paid Apps. Leading on from this, free Apps make it easier to get tons of more users. This is particularly important for network-based apps, but beyond that, having lots of users for any App is certainly a good thing!

Do free apps get paid for downloads? ›

Neither Google Play nor Apple App Store pays for app downloads, even though there are millions of users who completed this action. Instead, stores take some share from an app's earnings (30% from in-app purchases). Thus, to receive money from a free app it is necessary to set up revenue streams.

What is the downside of free apps? ›

Users' expectations for free apps are substantially lower than those for paid or premium apps. There are minimum standards that users thought will become at risk by little apps because they do not give more expectations. The likelihood of negative ratings and reviews is lower among users of free apps.

What are the three data monetization models? ›

Monetization options. In crafting our client's data monetization strategy, we considered three different paths to monetization—improving internal efficiency, enriching existing offerings, and direct monetization. We believe these can be helpful paths for many organizations interested in data monetization.

What are the benefits of monetization? ›

Monetizing your product can also help to create a sustainable business model that will allow you to continue generating revenue long-term. Another benefit of monetizing your product is that it can provide an incentive to develop and improve the product.

What platform is easiest to monetize? ›

While Instagram is the obvious choice for monetizing images, Pinterest and Snapchat also pay their content creators. There are, however, other options, such as Pinterest and Snapchat, that also help creators secure their bags.

Which monetization is best? ›

Best video monetization platforms in 2023
TikTokLevel: Beginner Best for: Short, trendy content clips.
Vimeo OTTLevel: Intermediate Best for: All video creators.
BrightcoveLevel: Beginner Best for: Integrating videos to a WordPress site.
VlogBoxLevel: Beginner Best for: Connected TV content.
10 more rows
Mar 22, 2023

How can I improve my app monetization? ›

12 Best Mobile App Monetization Strategies In 2023
  1. In-app Advertising Can Boost Revenue.
  2. Use Native Ads to Improve CTR.
  3. Freemium Subscriptions Can Drive Conversions.
  4. Use Premium Subscriptions to Deliver Stable Revenue.
  5. Use In-App Purchases to Create Repeat Customers.
  6. Affiliate Marketing Offers Flexibility.
Feb 23, 2023

How do you turn content into money? ›

How to make money as a content creator
  1. Offer online learning. ...
  2. Become a consultant. ...
  3. Consider a brand partnership. ...
  4. Turn content into sellable art. ...
  5. Offer subscriptions. ...
  6. Sell merchandise. ...
  7. Set up speaking engagements. ...
  8. Participate in affiliate marketing.
Jun 24, 2022

How do free websites make money without ads? ›

Most free web services plan to make money by the following: Freemium model - sell a free product and plan to convert some of them to a paid plan. Majority of SaaS products use this model. Limited period promotion - Start with the free product for a promotional initial period and plan to charge it later.

What are monetization tools? ›

Instagram Monetization Tools are a part of Meta's Facebook Monetization Tools that let creators, influencers, and certain select profiles earn money out of their content.

Which tools do you use to monetize? ›

Instagram Monetization Tools
  • Influencer marketing.
  • Bonuses.
  • Badges.
  • Subscriptions.
  • Gifts.
Oct 4, 2022

What are the four main ways to monetize in platform business? ›

Monetising a platform

These generally fall into four buckets: access to value creation, access to the market, access to tools and curation.

Are free apps really free? ›

Here's an explainer. Just because an app is free to download doesn't mean it will not cost you. Remember the small line of text next to the app listing that says “In-app purchases”. Apps in all categories on the App Store and Google Play have in-app purchases.

How much does a 1,000 app download make? ›

For 1000 daily usages, this is $2 per day. Generally 1 app download is at least 2 usages. So 1000 downloads is $4. The average revenue per app download is $0,004.

How do free websites make money? ›

The way most 'free' services make money is not by selling advertising. What they sell is access to you, and information about you to advertisers, marketers and researchers, and others. Your information is the commodity that drives the internet economy.


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