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Would you Pay to use Twitter?

I think it’s becoming clear that Elon Musk will move Twitter to be a paid service in one fashion or another. There is already the suggestion out there that the Twitter Blue subscription will be required to have a verified account and that it might be as much as $19.99 per month. A lot of people have balked at that, but I think that was sort of the point. Elon is negotiating. If they leak that it’s going to cost $20, and then they move verification to Twitter Blue but keep it at the current $5 price, it’ll seem cheap. (Nevermind that verification doesn’t cost now.)

edited to add – it appears that Elon is now talking about $8 per month, so we see he is still negotiating.

As many have pointed out, though, there’s a real risk in charging for verification. It has the feel of extortion because it is extortion. (That’s a lovely little audience you have there, be a shame if someone created another account pretending to be you.)

Tim Bray gave his own suggestions on what Twitter should do instead. It involves charging users at different levels. Tim is on the right track, but he’s missing something important. Let’s look at his suggested tiers:

  • Free: Follow five · Any Twitter account can follow five feeds for free. That’s plenty enough to get a flavor of what the service is like. But free accounts can’t post or like or retweet.

This is about useless for almost any user. Following 5 Twitter accounts will not cut it for anyone who actively uses Twitter, even just to get news and other information. This is essentially saying there will be no free users.

  • $1: Tweet away · For a buck a month, you can post as much as you want; also like and retweet. This feels like a very low price to enter the global conversation. Also for that $1 you can follow twenty feeds, not just five.

Again, being limited to 20 accounts you can follow doesn’t cut it. If we consider that most users are following a variety of subject matter experts or celebrities, they are interested in and rarely tweet themselves. You’re cutting them off at the hip. Think about this, are you interested in eDiscovery, LegalTech, and local news and events? But you’re limited to 20 accounts you can follow. Is that even worth $1 per month? Is it really “entering the global conversation? It sounds more like a group chat. I’ve got 20 times that many RSS feeds I follow for news already.

  • $5: Full citizenship · This lets you do everything you can do on Twitter today, with no ads. Revenue per user has suddenly more than doubled! How many Twitterers?—?in particular, how many of those who add value?—?would decline to pay $60/year for it? Not too damn many, I’m thinking.

I’m going to disagree, not because many verified accounts wouldn’t pay $60 per year, but because in this model, we have to consider what audience would be left to reach. Who are you talking to and interacting with for that money? When free accounts are limited to 5 feeds, and even paid customers are limited to 20, what are the chances yours will be one of them? Almost none. So you’re limited to talking to and with the other people willing to pay $60 to be on Twitter. Most of them will simply be peers. It’ll be politicians talking to each other and the media. Reporters talking to other reporters and celebrities. And that’s where we run into more significant questions. For example, if you’re the social media manager for a professional sports team, for example. You want to reach your fans. How many of your fans would pay to be on Twitter to follow you or include you in their 5 free feeds? Some small percentage, maybe. You’re also trying to reach people who aren’t die-hard fans by engaging social media content, but those people won’t see it with these limited accounts.

Tim leaves out of his analysis accounting for how many users will no longer be there and how that much smaller user base impacts the value proposition. If I’m a journalist using Twitter to interact with readers and attract new readers to my publication, the ROI of paying for a fully-featured Twitter account includes considering how many people it helps me reach. Is it still worth it when my 250,000 followers get cut to 25,000? What about 2,500? What about less?

Before you dismiss that as unlikely, I’d like you to remember that recent Pew research found that “the top 25% of users by tweet volume produce 97% of all tweets, while the bottom 75% of users produce just 3%, according to an analysis conducted over a three-month period in 2021.”

I’m going to just assume that the 75% group who isn’t tweeting very often is not going to pay for Twitter. Of the other 25% we have to consider how many of them will fall into the $12 per year plan because they already don’t follow many people but use Twitter to interact with people who want to follow them. The question is, will those followers still exist? And if they don’t exist, is Twitter still a global conversation? Or is it just another place for privileged people who pay for membership to talk to each other?

What would you pay to continue using Twitter the way you use it now?  Would a 75% drop in users make you stop using it instead?


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