Rebecca Castellani

By Rebecca Castellani

With app downloads reaching 115 billion in 2019, competition for user acquisition (UA) has never been greater. However, in a recently released report on App Trends, mobile measurement company Adjust advises marketers to “place less emphasis on their organic rankings” and focus instead on paid activities. Here’s what Adjust has to say about the rise of paid UA and how it will continue to influence the mobile gaming, entertainment, and e-commerce sectors.


“Could we soon see an equal number of organic and paid installs?” Statistics certainly suggest so. Adjust reports “ 2018, the number of installs from paid sources amounted to 24% of total installs. In 2019, that figure climbed to reach 30% — a 25% boost from the previous year, and taking more away from the organic slice of the market.”

The reasons for this shift from organic to paid are complex, but Adjust notes “a narrowing of organic discovery,” “big players dominating the ad landscape,” and a decline in “organic uplift” as significant contributors to this “changing ecosystem.” Regardless of the reason, the app market is “fast becoming a pay-to-play game,” the effects of which are being felt across most verticals in mobile.

Paid UA in Gaming, Entertainment, and E-commerce Apps

In 2019, paid install rates for the casual gaming industry increased by 17% due to “the rise of Hyper-casual gaming and the lucrative gains from the ad revenue-based model.” Adjust predicted gaming installs would slow in 2020, but following the outbreak of COVID-19, “the vertical saw more than double (132% increase) the amount of installs compared to last year.” According to Adjust, this is likely due to "the sense of community in shared playing that this vertical often engenders."

Paid entertainment installs also experienced a precipitous rise from 2018 to 2019; Adjust reports, "Music streaming saw the largest rise in paid activity of all -- a 50% increase as the battle for listeners rages on.” Entertainment apps have also benefited from the outbreak of COVID-19 by driving isolated users "...toward the comforts of streaming. Installs have increased rapidly since people began staying home, trending 55% above where they were last year.”

Conversely, e-commerce apps, which typically “acquire the most installs via paid campaigns,” experienced a slight decrease from 2018 (65%) to 2019 (61%), and unfortunately, it looks like the coronavirus has only hastened this decline. “E-commerce has taken a turn downward as shelter-in-place and social distancing gathered force in late March. Installs have been trending below the established baseline for 2020, down 12% week-on-week. With people at home and longer wait times for online orders becoming more prevalent, users may be turning to other pastimes to keep themselves busy, and have less need to shop.”

What This Means for Mobile

As the app economy continues to become a more crowded and competitive space, Adjust advises marketers "to build up their paid activities and focus less on organic.” Expect paid UA to become more widely adopted in the mobile app economy, as prolonged social distancing drives more users to the distractions of casual gaming and streaming. For more insight and tips to improve paid UA campaigns, check out Adjust’s full report on 2020 App Trends.