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Following on Mr Musk’s acquisition of Twitter a discussion has broken out about what to charge for. Which makes sense, because Twitter revenue is kind of lousy, notably out of sync with its societal importance, and now they’ve got a great big honking debt to service.

Whatever I may think about Twitter’s leadership, previous or current, I like the service and would prefer that it continue functioning. In fact, I like it enough to pay for it! But how much and what for?

Blue check? No! · The first idea being floated is charging for the “blue check” Verified label. Lots of people have opined that this is the wrong way to go. For example, in the exchange below Mr King sneers at $20/month and Mr Musk counterproposes $8.

Stephen King and Elon Musk argue about what a blue check’s worth

I also dislike this idea. Disclosure: I’m a blue check, and I’d be disinclined to cough up money to prove who I am; it’s easy enough to look me up on Wikipedia, find my blog from there, and notice my claim there that I’m also @timbray.

So I worry that the only people who’d pay for the blue check are entities who need Twitter for self-promotion. Lord knows there are plenty, of whom I follow as few as possible.

Some have argued that blue checks are key adders of value to the service. But you should ignore my opinion on that because I’ve got an obvious conflict of interest.

Package pricing · So here’s what I suggest: A package of services, priced individually, and you put together your own package.

All the prices from here on in are per-month.

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.

$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.

It also occurs to me that making contributors pay just a bit could be a powerful anti-spam tool. The reason people can too easily build bot armies on Twitter is because it’s effectively free. That $1 would be a significant disincentive, and tracking the payment sources (i.e. credit-card numbers) could also be useful in bot-fighting.

What about ads? · In Q2 of 2022, Twitter reported 237.8 million monetizable daily active users and $1.18B in revenue, nearly all ads. By my arithmetic, that’s monthly average revenue per user of about $1.65.

Which feels like a pretty terrible business, and also has the effect of turning your users into your product. On top of which, I find that the Twitter ads I see are pretty useless to me.

Also they’re jarringly unpleasant. The great value of Twitter is that you get exposed to a lot of interesting human voices, which tend to have spicy flavors including cynicism, anger, and lewdness. Then there’s the cheery upbeat corporate-approved ad content. I’m just not sure it can ever be made harmonious.

$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.

But I’m also thinking that going off advertising cold-turkey could be financially painful. So maybe there’s an interim package of $2.50+ads or some such.

Blue check · It doesn’t figure into the pricing. It’s a service offered by Twitter to flag people whose identity is established and are perhaps apt to be a bit more interesting than average. If it benefits anyone it’s the customers, once you’ve done what it takes to make them customers not product.

Yes, I think it would be good if Twitter’s users were its customers. Yes, I grant that you could never launch a new social network and ask people to pay for it. But Twitter has a base of pretty-addicted users, so it might work.

Anyhow: Hey there Twitter people, good luck to you. You’re gonna need it.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Paul Hoffman (Nov 01 2022, at 10:39)

I too would pay $5 for an ad-free current Twitter, particularly because there would be less spam accounts.

Having said that, I'm betting that Elon will just burn it to the ground and feel good about it. I have absolutely no idea what his co-investors were thinking.


From: Matt (Nov 01 2022, at 12:56)

$1 probably feels cheap to you and me, but consider the developing world where Twitter is a useful tool for information sharing and reaching out to the world. $1 could be a weekly or monthly wage. And $5, oh boy, that'd cut a majority of the world out of the conversation.

Some academic journals have pricing models that take the economic level of the subscriber or author's country into account, but in a Twitter environment that's more general public focused that could be very difficult to manage/enforce. Also, bot farms would just migrate to these lower cost jurisdictions.

Then there's the payment processing aspect, it reminds me of the old "$1 toll" pitches for bridges in the region you and I live. As pointed out at that time, such a low toll wouldn't pay for the infrastructure needed to collect it, let alone the bridges themselves. I would bet the same applies here, payment processing, fraud detection, customer service for payment issues, would $1 or $5 even cover that let alone the Twitter infrastructure?

I see where you're coming from but I can't see this working for a global platform.


From: John Cowan (Nov 01 2022, at 14:41)

"In Q2 of 2022, Twitter reported 237.8 monetizable daily active users and $1.18B in revenue, nearly all ads."

So. This lightly-used service has almost 238 users a day (on average, presumably), from which they extract more than a billion dollars in revenue. Sounds like they need some more users, but financially they are doing great.

In addition, the "reported" link is 404.


From: Alex J (Nov 01 2022, at 16:44)

The problem with charging people $5/mo for ad-free membership is that disproportionately the customers with advertising value >$5/mo will take you up on the offer. In this sense, ads are like insurance!


From: Gavin B. (Nov 02 2022, at 01:26)

Adding to what Matt writes ...

these days, Twitter is often the only way to get a complaint replied to in timely fashion - at least with European/UK public services/entities that typically shun email and put you in a long waiting queue on the phone.

So the $1 could disenfranchise those who don't do online payments - perhaps for credit rating reasons.


From: Jarek (Nov 07 2022, at 12:30)

This seems reasoned very much from the point of view of someone who is already established on Twitter and has a network of followees and followers they like.

Which is of course fine. But the solutions suggested kill the deal for anyone new who might be thinking of joining a community. Why would a new programmer want to join a service where they can meet 5 other programmers but need to put in credit card info to even talk with them? They'll find a community elsewhere.

People naturally gradually leave communities, and if you don't have new people joining, the platform will gradually die out.

Of course, with the current """leadership""", gradually dying out might have been the better outcome...


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October 31, 2022
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