Jingcun CAO
Prof. Jingcun CAO
Assistant Professor

3917 1121

KK 718

From Free to Paid: Monetizing a Non-Advertising-Based App

Non-advertising-based mobile apps face several critical challenges when trying to monetize their free services—among them, the choice of pricing strategies (hard landing vs. soft landing; i.e., a “pay or churn” paywall vs. continuing to offer limited free services to existing users after monetization) and aspects of product design (whether to provide exclusive secondary offerings to paying users). The authors implemented a large-scale randomized field experiment with an app firm to test the causal effects of such pricing and product design strategies. Results show that both soft landing and exclusive secondary offerings decrease existing app users’ willingness to subscribe, but there is a positive interaction between these two strategies on subscriptions. The authors propose a theoretical framework, discuss potential mechanisms that might be at play, and conduct robustness checks to rule out several alternative explanations. A customer survey by the firm and an experiment on Prolific provide further support for the theoretical mechanism. To assess generalizability, the authors conducted a second field experiment and obtained consistent results. They also report the results from the actual implementation of the best-performing strategy by the firm. This research provides guidance on possible theoretical underpinnings of users’ responses and important managerial implications for app monetization.