Subscription-based apps: most popular apps and app categories in 2020

Subscription businesses are growing around the world. Subscription plans create an incentive for the companies to improve their service or product to increase customer retention. For a customer, a subscription allows testing a new service with just a small initial payment. 

Mobile apps are embracing the trend for the subscription monetization model. App Annie reported that in-app subscriptions accounted for $32 billion consumer spend in App Stores in 2019. And that figure has increased two-fold since 2016.

Top Grossing Apps on the Apple App Store

We’ve decided to look at the 100 top-grossing apps on the Apple App Store to see the share of apps using subscriptions and the most popular app categories. We used openly available data from App Annie and SensorTower for this research. The top-100 ranking is based on the App Annie data as of the end of August 2020. Revenue estimates are from SensorTower for August 2020. All numbers below are just rough estimates and should be looked upon as an approximation to understand the scale of the apps described.

We’ve added several additional categories to standard App Store categories to provide more transparency into the data:

  • We assigned some apps from the Entertainment category either Streaming, Social Networking, or Games category where we deemed it to be more relevant. 
  • We grouped dating apps under one Dating category.
  • We split the huge Games category into Games and Casino Games.
  • And we grouped the following three apps from navigation, productivity, and sports into one Other category: “onX Hunt”, “Dropbox”,  “MLB” since these three do not really fit in any of the other top categories.

Here is how the category distribution by the number of apps and by in-app revenue for the top-100 apps looks like:

Top 100 top-grossing apps on the Apple App Store

Games and Casino Games apps together account for almost 72% of total revenue for top-100 apps.

And here is the estimated annual revenue for each category:

CategoryEstimated Annual
Revenue, M$
Streaming & Music1,980
Casino Games1,140
Social Networking504

Per our analysis, most of the games are not using in-app subscriptions extensively. Consumable in-app purchases are still the main monetization mechanic.

Streaming and Music Apps

The situation changes completely for the next largest category – Streaming and Music Apps. Most of these apps monetize primarily with in-app subscriptions. Here is the list with the estimated annual revenue for each app in the category:

App NameEstimated Annual
Revenue, M$
YouTube: Watch, Listen, Stream720
YouTube Music132
Pandora: Music & Podcasts120
Twitch: Live Game Streaming120
Hulu: Stream movies & TV shows84
Amazon Music: Listen Ad-Free84
HBO Max: Stream TV & Movies60
TIDAL Music36

These 12 category leaders drive roughly $2B in annual revenue on Apple’s App Store.

Social Networking Apps

The next largest category is Social Networking. Apps in that category use both consumable products and subscriptions. 

You might be surprised to find Facebook on that list. Apparently, Facebook provides in-app products to enable financial support to a limited group of video creators, that’s how Facebook explains the existence of in-app purchases in its apps

Facebook earns up to $60M per year on in-app products, not a large share of Facebook’s $70 billion revenue last year, but still sizeable enough to be in the top-100 grossing apps.

TikTok is also on the list. TikTok users spend real money in the app to purchase coins that can be exchanged for gifts during live streams.

App NameEstimated Annual
Revenue, M$
BIGO LIVE-Live Stream, Go Live180
LinkedIn: Network & Job Finder108
TikTok – Trends Start Her72
Tagged -Chill, Chat & Go Live!48
IMVU: 3D Avatar Creator & Chat36

Dating Apps

The next largest category is Dating. The category is dominated by Tinder, but there are also other significant players. Subscriptions are the main monetization mechanic for this category.

App NameEstimated Annual
Revenue, M$
Tinder – Dating & Make Friends528
Bumble – Dating. Friends. Chat132
Hinge: Dating & Relationships48
Plenty of Fish Datin48
MeetMe – Go Live, Chat & Meet36

Conclusions and final thoughts

Based on the data above, subscriptions drive from 20 to 30% of the total revenue of the top-100 apps, and they are most popular in the non-gaming categories. 

While the subscription model can be very lucrative for the company it comes with its own set of complexities. To increase the revenue that users generate over time subscription companies have to reduce churn and make sure that users stay satisfied with the app for as long as possible.

If you are building an app with a subscription you should try Qonversion. Qonversion makes it simple to implement in-app subscriptions, provides subscription analytics, and tools to reduce churn and increase your app revenue.

And you find this post to be useful or you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you! Follow me on Twitter, where I’m posting app-related content from time to time.

If you a looking for opportunities to sell your subscription applications, read our guides on how to sell an app and increase app valuation.