Ad Revenue vs. Paying Customers: Which Makes More?

Today’s article is written by Holger Sindbæk, Designer and Developer, at Online Solitaire.


I’m the creator of Online Solitaire, a website where more than 1 million people play more than 4 million games of Klondike Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, and FreeCell each month. All the games are free to play, but ads are shown on the right side of the playing board, with an option to upgrade to an ad-free version of the game for a nominal fee.

Which raises the question: how many pay the nominal fee, and how many stick with the ads?

Expectations 

When I first started to think about implementing Stripe as a paid alternative to ads, I thought it would be an excellent supplement to the site’s ad revenue. Most of the users on the site are recurring users, many of whom come back every day to play a game of solitaire and the average session for a user is 20 minutes, so for some of those heavy users, a paid option seemed like a no-brainer. 

So I went about implementing Stripe. The way I did it was through a text-based button above the ads saying “Hide ads”. When clicking that, a popover would show where people could pay $4.99/month or complete a 5 min survey to hide ads.

The functionality itself worked great, and a good bunch of people clicked “Hide ads” because who doesn’t want to hide ads if it’s an option? Below you can see a screenshot of how many people click “Hide ads” each day. You can see that the number is around 100 people per day who see the purchase popover.

That leaves the question of how many people actually purchase a subscription or complete a survey.

Reality

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Was the implementation of subscriptions a failure, a success, or somewhere in-between? In short, it was a failure. Few people are willing to pay a fee to get rid of ads. They aren’t willing to complete a survey to hide the ads for a time, either. 

Below is a screenshot from Stripe, where you’ll see that only 3 people have paid for the game in the last 30 days. Considering how many people play the game, how much some of those people play it, and how much some seem to complain about ads, it’s astonishing that so few people are willing to pay for it.

For perspective, Online Solitaire earns more than $10.000/month in ad revenue, and the 12 month average for subscription revenue is $8.3/month, which makes subscription-based revenue absolutely minuscule.

So what can we conclude from all that?

Reflections

First of all, the above scenario might not be the same for your website. Solitaire is one of those games that people expect to be free, and therefore they might be much less willing to pay for it. That being said, if you have a website in the same genre and you’re considering spending time to implement subscriptions or any type of payment, your time is probably better spent doing something else.

Another thing we can conclude is how tolerant people are towards ads when the alternative is paying up. Everyone talks about how annoyed they are by ads and how they wish they weren’t there, but people seem to prefer them over the alternative when it comes down to it. 

I hope that this post will make it clearer for you whether to implement subscriptions or not. If you’re still unsure, why not play a game of Freestar-themed solitaire below to clear your head.

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