For those that can remember the birth and adolescence of the internet and a number of social media platforms that made digital communication history, you will recall that the opportunity to digitally connect to anyone, anywhere, anytime was free. Really, it was free, as at no cost. It was really amazing that a society built on the principles of capitalism could have a company produce a service so unique, for that period in history, that had no cost to the user-consumer. Investors flocked to buy shares of ownership in entities that failed to produce any profits for nearly a decade. Most failed to even ask the question; How are these companies going to make a profit and grow in value? It seemed like the ultimate, “Build it and they will come” venture capitalist experiment. And gosh, did it ever work!
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Google, and others have figured out the business model used by old-fashioned print communication outlets for hundreds of years. Create a free, or nominal-charge, subscription price for a magazine or newspaper, that doesn’t begin to cover the basic overhead of its production, and make profits on advertising space. Today, Twitter has a market capitalization rate of $53.57 billion, 85 percent of which is supported by advertising fees, and the remainder being earned from its data licensing business.
The social media behemoth is now following the lead of other platforms and announcing a “premium Twitter” where Tweeters can share thoughts in the traditional 280 characters or less; for a price. While appropriate pontifications can still be posted for no charge, to really be heard and become an important member of a select clique, it will be $2.99 per month, thank you very much; ka-ching!
“Twitter Blue” is aimed at customers who are our most engaged, our most passionate super users who really want to take their experience to the next level,” said Ms. Beykpour, Twitter product leader in charge of subscriptions. “There is something special about this cohort that we’re really learning about.” And the bucks don’t stop there! Twitter will permit users to earn money from content that they make exclusive to “special followers”. A “special follower” could pay a creator they follow on Twitter a few dollars a month to access that user’s exclusive newsletter or to see special tweets. Super Followers will even be able to join a special clique and display a “Twitter Blue” creator’s brand or logo. Of course, Twitter will charge Twitter Blue creators a small fee for each transaction; ka-ching, ka-ching! The company is reported to be considering other subscription and payment products in the near future to offset dependence on advertising revenue.
Right now, the new subscription service is only available in select test markets that support iOS in Canada and Australia until the “bugs” can be worked out. “We are going to continue to iterate on different tier and pricing opportunities as we continue to learn more about what is — and isn’t — working,” said a Twitter spokesperson. “Twitter told its investors earlier this year it plans to at least double its total annual revenue, from $3.7 billion in 2020 to $7.5 billion or more, in 2023, in part thanks to its new initiatives, including subscriptions.”
Is it possible that free speech just isn’t really free on digital, social media platforms anymore?