The People Who Pay For Your Free Apps

Nothing in this world is free. So who pays for free apps?

Megan Holstein
Nov 29, 2018 · 7 min read

If you aren’t paying to use the software you use, that means someone else is paying for you.

Almost always, it’s advertisers. They are paying for you to use the software because when you use it, your eyeballs see their ads. You’re basically saying “Yes, I will sit through an intermittent brainwashing campaign designed to get me to buy your product in exchange for the use of this software.”


  • Loss Aversion. We get more addicted to apps that make us feel like we will lose something if we don’t use them. In FarmVille, crops could only be harvested in a certain window of time. Miss that window, your crops die. We don’t like the feeling of loss, even if it’s over digital crops that are completely worthless, so we open the app to harvest them. We might as well plant more crops while we’re there, and so the cycle continues.
  • Vitamins vs. Painkillers. Vitamins may or may not solve pains that may or may not exist in the future. Painkillers fix pain now. Apps that are addictive fix pain now, as opposed to relying on the nebulous promises of the future. FarmVille fixes boredom now, Snapchat fixes loneliness now, so on and so forth.
  • Perceived Scarcity. We instinctively think that which is more scarce is more valuable. Apps take advantage of this by creating the perception of scarcity of things inside the app, like gems or coins or XP points.
  • Investment. We value more highly that which we did ourselves, even when the competing option is clearly higher quality and a better value. Apps take advantage of this by getting you to ‘invest’ in the app early, either by making a post, playing a tutorial game, or something else of the sort.


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Megan Holstein

Written by

I teach people how to change their lives for the better. Sign up for my digest, get free resources, books, and more: www.meganeholstein.com.

Tech Critical

discussing the role of tech in our lives

Megan Holstein

Written by

I teach people how to change their lives for the better. Sign up for my digest, get free resources, books, and more: www.meganeholstein.com.

Tech Critical

discussing the role of tech in our lives