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CPI installs V. paid apps and price drops…. which makes more money in the app store?

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A quick look at the top grossing games charts in iTunes will tell you that free games are making the most money right now in the app store. I wanted to test this myself using CPI advertisements V. paid apps. How would different pricing options and price drops impact the final revenue and chart rankings? No paid promotions were used, this was all organic sales.

Just over five days ago I released two versions of a new game I had made on the app store. It’s a universal app in the games > racing category called ‘A1 Salt Flats’.


Version 1: Paid. Went live early on Wednesday morning at $4.99. No ads and no IAPs. Switched to free on Saturday with ads.

Version 2: Free. Went live early on Friday morning. Chartboost and RevMob ads. No IAPs.

Sales for the paid version were falling very fast (due to earn $10 revenue as a paid app if I left it alone on Saturday) so I switched it over to free early on Saturday morning. RevMob and Chartboost were enabled then. It’s now Monday afternoon… so it’s been just over 5 days since the first app (paid version), and just over 3 days (free version) went live. Here is the revenue for the last five days:



The free game has got four times as many downloads as the paid > free game to date.

RANKINGS in the US app store:

Version 1: At the start this briefly got to #97 top grossing iPad racing. It was very low in the actual paid charts though… about #871. Once I changed it to free it got to #142 iphone free racing and #123 iPad free racing. This is going up slowly so it may rise more.

Version 2: This got up as far as #73 ipad free racing US (a little more on iPhone) on Saturday (day two of release) and has moved down now since then.



1. Download numbers are not as high during the weekdays so they may have hampered the initial sales of the paid version.
2. The free game made more money in 3 days, than the paid (then free) app made in 5 days.
3. Charging $4.99 for a game wasn’t sustainable… once the game started to slip off the ‘new’ lists on Apple after the first two days, sales went downhill fast. They were reducing by more than 50% daily. Day four (Saturday) based on this trend would only have earned me about $10.
4. Setting a game to free initially will rank it higher in the free charts in the first while, compared to changing a game from paid to free. Over times this will change as rankings become more dependent on keyword searches and other Apple features.
5. The boost the app got on Saturday through having its price drop tracked on various websites was not enough so far to boost its free app ranking above the free app, or boost its ad revenue past the free app.
6. Free apps get more downloads :) If I was to put in IAPs in a new version, the free app would be more valuable to me due to the much larger user base.
7. The paid app may have fared better as a paid app, if the free app was not available in the store.

If you found this blog interesting all I ask is one thing – please share it with your app community.

Have you done any app pricing tests? Let me know in the comments.

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Elaine Heney is an online entrepreneur, triple #1 best selling author and international keynote speaker. Elaine is an Amazon FBA ecommerce advisor, investor, Hollywood movie producer, online business consultant and CEO of Chocolate Lab Cashflow. Elaine has also published over 300 mobile apps across Amazon, Apple & Google, and enjoyed over 20 million app downloads and over 50 #1 apps worldwide.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Brian June 19, 2013, 1:54 am

    So what I gather from this is that I need a kick ass icon and then I should release both paid and free versions just to maximize revenue? Gotcha. Great post, thanks for this. Always wondered how that sort of thing turns out.

    First game was submitted today. I am a student of your course on Udemy. Hoping it comes in handy in great volume soon!

  • Elaine Heney September 20, 2013, 7:23 pm

    Congrats Brian!

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