Twitter will have a Paywall Soon 💀
Are paywalled sites really a good idea?
Creator Economy Tips is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Even as Advertising remains in a slump, we are reaching paid subscription saturation, but Elon Musk didn’t get the memo. Twitter may soon go full-on Medium, and exist behind a paywall.
While Snap+ has been successful, it’s because it’s a very low subscription with some fun added features.
Musk said X is “moving to having a small, monthly payment for use of the X system” and said the social network now has 550 million monthly users. How many of those supposed monthly active users will pay? Musk mentioned bots as the issue, but actual revenue is likely the greater issue for X.
The exodus of Advertisers from Twitter has forced its hand, and becoming a closed paywalled community like Medium is the only thing that might save it from bankruptcy. Medium went behind a paywall and it’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy yet again. So much so it had to purge its “successful” writers recently yet again with a monetization pivot.
Musk did not specify how much the plans would cost or what features would be included at the lowest tier. However, he did claim that X now has 550 million monthly users that typically post 100 million to 200 million posts a day, though this is unlikely to be real data.
If Musk’s abrupt and ruthless conduct alienated advertisers, a paywall would certainly be a good way to alienate casual X users and long-time loyal users who stuck around for things like Twitter Audio experiences formerly called Twitter Spaces, not sure what the X version of that is.
Paywalls and paid subscriptions are great when the times are good, but what happens when consumers are pressed in harsher economic times with less discretionary spending? Even Streaming is half-broken at this point, without doing Ads too as Netflix found out recently. Paid Subscriptions provide an injection of cash, but they don’t solve the user experience. Medium is not a great user experience for instance, even though it went behind a paywall for lack-lustre content.
As users churn from your echo-chamber of a paywalled community, they never come back, and discovery is poor. Which made Medium into a echo-chamber of writers reading other writers, a bit like what Substack Notes feels like today. I recently was blocked from following more people on Notes and cannot recommend them there easily any longer, so I guess that’s the end for me on Notes for a while.
Media is in a bad spot right now, with an advertising slump and too many paid subscriptions everywhere! While consumers have been willing to pay for Generative A.I. products like Midjourney or ChatGPT, even that novely will wear off even as more companionship orientated products like Charter.AI and Pi gain momentum. So a Twitter, Snap+ or Substack subscription will be competing with more and more subscriptions. Eventually all of this hits a wall.
X would be wiser to have different Paid Tiers, since it’s paid tier has not gotten great adoption offering too little for too high a price. Even Elon Musk is not that followed as a paid content producer, as you’d expect. Why would someone with 157 million followers only have 25k paid supporters? That’s a lot of bots in Elon Musk’s community of X-men.
Musk's subscriber count shows at 24.7k, or somewhere between 24,700 and 24,799 paying subscribers. Twitter's owner charges $4 for subscriptions to his account. - Mashable
Paid subscriptions are great, until they aren’t. In 2023 we are quickly reaching a point where they aren’t the best method of monetization, especially without tiers. Consumers like choices, even the illusion of choice. With social media in shambles getting “verified” is the new one-time fee social media giants have leveraged for extra ARPU scamming.
During its last public earnings of Q1 2022 Twitter had 229 million mDAUs. What is the point of saying there are over 500 million now? We know there has been an extraordinary exodus of users.
X must be in a very dire financial situation to contemplate such changes. Snap+ is $3.99 a month, which is a bearable paywall for most people. This pay-to-use reality of social media is creeping up to us in a variety of different ways.
X Plus Likely In the Works
According to analysts, Musk didn’t expand on his plan to charge for X or when such a change would come about. But since Musk took over the platform last year, the company has been pushing its users to subscribe to its paid subscription product, X Premium (previously Twitter Blue). This $8 per month or $84 per year subscription service offers a variety of features like the ability to edit posts, half the ad load, prioritized rankings in search and conversations, the ability to write longer posts, and more. I have been testing out the feature, it has not been a great experience and has not led to any more engagement on X.
It’s a lot of X frankly and a lot of Musk’s ramblings as CTO. But is the product or UX getting worse or better? Frankly the quality of the content there has noticeably gone down. The bias throttling competitors or other sites has not been a bonus. The promise of free speech has just led to people feeling less comfortable there, which damages the brand reputation of the product in an irrevocable way so long as Elon Musk has a dystopian hang-out there. Musk has become increasingly unhinged as he leaves his prime years of productivity as an entrepreneur. And his fall from Greatness whatever that looks like, is going to be painful to watch even for his fans.
That’s not to say X won’t survive though. X has a core base that have invested too much of their lives over the past 1.5 decades to leave. Threads might become the free Twitter alternative that keeps getting boosted by Instagram’s popularity. While X becomes a more premium experience that combines with other things like crypto, trading, chat and other “super-app” type features. It’s expensive to become the WeChat of the west after all.
X’s actual size of MAUs and DAUs might be much smaller than it once was before Elon Musk arrived and it wasn’t that great to begin with, at least compared to TikTok, Meta, YouTube or even LinkedIn that has had a little more global penetration in countries outside the U.S. So what exactly will we be going to X for? Presumably these futuristic experiences. TBA.
X Premium has Been a Failure in 2023
X premium has been a disaster. X doesn’t disclose how many paid subscribers it has, but independent research indicates X Premium hasn’t attracted a majority of X users. One analysis determined only 827,615 users currently subscribe to X Premium, for example. That’s not a stellar conversion rate. Medium is a pretty glaring example of what having a bundled paywall can do to your product, Medium has been in clickbait content mill territory for at least the last decade. Though my peers on Subsack claim it’s good for discovery. In my mind, claims of fame on Medium is almost an insult to your personal brand. It says to me you were dumb enough to pay to write for free. As we found out in August, your “earnings” are subject to change. Medium even comes up with ridiculous idealistic brand narratives that are reminiscent of much of Substack’s tactics.
If you are doing behavior modification via idealism on your users, it’s not generally a good side. It’s usually a smoke screen for weakness of your product, funding or both. It’s actually atrocious to watch, because it’s always to the detriment of the users because it’s promoting a false carrot, a false promise and as you know we writers are sort of suckers.
X Premium felt like such a false promise. But X Plus that anybody has to adopt who wants to stick around might be just want funds new features in the app. New features that many of us won’t actually be that interested in like paying for stuff in dogecoin or whatever.
Elon Musk is a special breed of individual. While SpaceX and Tesla have seemingly decent first-mover advantages, Neuralink and his other projects haven’t been so lucky. It’s not as if Tesla or SpaceX won’t be caught up by China in the 5-10 year period. You can push the world forward, but it does catch up to you surprisingly quickly. As an advertiser you don’t want to be in a shrinking ecosystem with more bots. Musk’s claim that there are 140% more users just doesn’t make sense and for Twitter to become a paid social media ecosystem really is like the death of social media.