Under increased pressure from investors to break out of its sluggish growth, Twitter is reportedly getting serious about offering a subscription product in order to create a new revenue stream. Advertising will remain the social network’s bread and butter for the foreseeable future, but according to Bloomberg, we could get an update on subscription plans as soon as Twitter’s latest earnings call on Tuesday.
Twitter’s earnings last quarter exceeded expectations, but its new user numbers disappointed Wall Street and there’s growing perception that the platform may be hitting a ceiling with its audience. That means it’s time, once again, to think about new ways to squeeze blood from this stone. Bloomberg’s sources claim that several teams at Twitter are competing to develop subscription options with features like tipping and/or charging a fee for TweetDeck looking to be the most likely choices for launch.
The idea of skimming a fee from tips that users send to their favorite influencers has already found success on Twitch and other services, so trying it on Twitter sounds relatively painless. The idea of charging a subscription fee for some sort of enhanced version of TweetDeck would be more of a gamble, but it could function as a test for power-users’ tolerance of a paid model.
NYU Stern professor Scott Galloway became a bit of a punching bag last week when he tried to explain the GameStop stock explosion as a product of horny dudes not having enough sex. But Galloway’s galaxy-brain take overshadowed a fairly compelling article he wrote for New York Magazine that argues Twitter is leaving influencer money on the table. The professor, who is a disgruntled investor in Twitter, sees a future in which Twitter charges users a monthly fee when they exceed a certain number of followers. The fee would cover access to improved analytics tools. By Galloway’s calculation, Twitter only needs 15% of its userbase to cough up $10 per month in order to replace its ad-revenue entirely.
But replacing ad-revenue outright doesn’t seem to be top of mind for the company. In a statement sent to Gizmodo, Bruce Falck, Twitter’s revenue product lead, said that increasing “revenue durability” is the top objective, and the company will be experimenting with non-ad-based revenue in 2021. “These may include subscriptions and other approaches that will give people and businesses of all sizes on Twitter access to unique features and enhanced opportunities for content creation, discovery, and engagement,” Falck said while emphasizing that the team doesn’t expect any of these experiments to produce “any meaningful revenue” in the next year.
A subscription version of TweetDeck could give Twitter some indication of the level of interest that businesses and influencers would have in a full pay-to-tweet model. If the company’s most important users cough up a few bucks for an ad-free experience with better organizational options and stronger analytics, maybe they’d be willing to go all the way.
According to Bloomberg, other revenue options on the table include charging for: ad-free feeds, higher-quality video uploads, verification, and custom profile looks. Those options seem pretty minor in isolation but could be appealing if they’re put into a package.
Perhaps the most radical idea being floated is an option for popular users to offer a separate feed of exclusive content for subscribers. Twitter could take a little cut of the subscription and would never have to directly ask users for money. But that could lead to long-term problems as the company’s best users put their best tweets behind paywalls instead of fueling the broader network.
Twitter’s been throwing around ideas like this for quite some time, and while investors eye Facebook’s stock price with envy, the fact that Twitter barely ever changes is one of the things that’s made it unique. We may get some surprising announcement during tomorrow’s earnings call, but don’t expect Jack Dorsey to push outside his comfort zone any time soon.