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Twitter Might Roll Out a Members-Only, Ad-Free Subscription Service Soon

Aug 1, 2020 12:01 PM 4 min read

Last week, Twitter reported its Q2 earnings. It was a mixed bag. While the number of daily users surged 34% YoY to 186m, revenue fell 19% to $683m. The latter was attributed mainly to the coronavirus pandemic, which saw tech giants’ ad revenues - a substantial portion of how many of them make money - plummet.

This relationship with ad revenue is all the more crucial for social media companies like Twitter.


A few days later, rumours emerged that the San Francisco-based company was working on "subscriptions and other approaches" as potential alternate revenue sources to decrease its reliance on advertisements.

The news was met positively by investors - the speculation alone sent Twitter shares jumping 12%.

To be fair, the social media giant has been playing with the idea of a subscription service for years now. It had sought feedback on such a feature in 2017 and 2009 as well. But this time, considering the pandemic-sparked business disruptions, Twitter might actually seriously see the plan through.

But what would a paid/subscription service look like?

We now have an idea. Reports emerged yesterday that Twitter is surveying users on what kind of features they would like to see in a potential subscription service.

The features being considered were being polled, so they are not the final iterations, but they do give us a peek into what the service could evolve to become. The potential features that users might be asked to pay for include an “undo send” window, posting longer videos, custom profile badges, more analytical tools, fewer to no ads and custom colours for the app and website.

Here are snapshots from the actual survey:

Twitter Might Roll Out a Members-Only, Ad-Free Subscription Service Soon
Credits: @RothsReviews


Social Media Companies and Ads

Now, ad revenue is the elixir for social media companies - it’s what keeps them afloat and able to provide free services.

But the pandemic has upended this system. Companies are less willing than before to pay for digital ads, either because they’re facing a cash crunch, flailing demand or because they were forced to shut shop altogether.

So alternate streams of revenue are not just preferable but necessary for platforms like Twitter and Facebook right now.

Oh, and speaking of Facebook...

The Menlo Park-headquartered firm has an overwhelmingly ad-reliant business model too, and it has been mulling a paid service for a long time as well. It has already rolled out Facebook Fan Subscriptions, which is a service for content creators to offer members-only exclusives like special videos, Q&As, live-streams and member discounts.

But Facebook has still not announced intentions to roll out a broad subscription package for exclusive access to its entire platform, like Twitter has.


Free for All, Fun for None

Free-for-all social media has enabled the internet to become a platform like no other. It has democratised debate and made information accessible to anyone with a network connection.

But it has its downsides too. The advertisement model feeds off user engagement, and this relationship has become parasitic. Many social media platforms are designed to be addictive, and this is undoubtedly not healthy for users. Then there’s the slew of data breaches and user information mishandling that has plagued these companies’ public perception.

These platforms have also become feeding grounds for trolls, hate speech, harassment and abuse. And the myriad of information and opinion sources has shifted focus from quality to quantity - all talk, no substance. After all, there’s only so much meaningful conversation that you can have in 280 characters!

And all of this has been to the detriment of talented content creators, especially the smaller and independent ones.


A Way Out?

To counter this flood of toxicity and spam, new platforms with different business models like Substack and Patreon have emerged. Their pitch? Subscription-based and ad-free access to artists, podcasters, writers, gamers etc. As opposed to an ad-based free-for-all access.

This enables content creators to disburse better material to attract more funding, and in exchange their audience - while smaller than what they might garner on Twitter or Facebook - is more likely to be actually interested in what they do since they are paying members. This, creators and users on such platforms say, enables a healthier, more sustainable internet experience. The same goes for email newsletters, where there are paid subscription services like Stratecherry and Sinocism.

It could be such a model that Twitter (and even Facebook) may be moving towards. Or at least provide users the option of in addition to the usual ad-based model. Whether this will succeed in making the internet a less toxic and more pleasant place is anybody’s guess.


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