As the month of May winds down, and updates from Twitter continue to blip on the news radar, industry watchers are waiting for Elon Musk’s promise of a pay-per-article feature to debut on Twitter. Since his acquisition of the social media and microblogging platform last October, Musk has brought about a flurry of product and organizational changes. The Twitter-verified blue tick was rolled out as a paid service apart from other updates, ranging from allowing monetization of content by creators on Twitter as well as the introduction of long-form video streaming and more.
Musk, who had previously stated his aim to transport a million human colonists to Mars by 2050, at the end of April said that come May the social media platform will allow media publishers to charge users on a per article per click basis. Musk tweeted that the feature would allow users to not "sign up for a monthly subscription to pay a higher per article price for when they want to read an occasional article.”
While that feature is still awaited, exchange4media spoke to industry veterans on how this would impact news media publishers around the world, and its level of impact in a price-sensitive market like India.
Dr Kushal Sanghvi, Head - India and SEA, CitrusAd, says, “Headlines, breaking news, entertainment buzz, are all streaming continuously and for free across your social and media and FYPs. While paid subscriptions to news publishers are becoming increasingly common in mature markets in the West, it will require a huge shift in the thought process of Indian consumers for the same to take place here.”
Nakul Dutt, Strategy Director at Foxymoron (Zoo Media), agrees, noting that at present there are more than 500 million Indians who consume news online, out of which only a fraction subscribe to one or more online news platforms. “Making consumers pay for subscriptions is not an easy task primarily because of three reasons. In the physical world, one used to pay for the newspaper to consume news; in the online world almost all of the content is free.”
“Second is the consumption behaviour, with so many publishers, consumption of news is getting fragmented. While some mature consumers are publisher-first, others tend to either follow content-first-specific publishers for specific genres or content discovery approach, relying on aggregators or information platforms like Twitter for their daily dose of news,” he adds.
“Another important point is the general nature of the online ecosystem. Digital is about instant gratification. The intent is towards fulfilment and not a commitment - the destination. Because of this lack of brand loyalty in the digital world, publishers need to first champion discovery and retention before acquisition – subscribers.”
On the other hand, Mitesh Kothari, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, White Rivers Media, says the recently announced pay-per-article feature has been accompanied by a significant level of appreciation.” It’s similar to people on OTT platforms who do not want to buy yearly subscriptions and are given the option to pay on a monthly basis. When it comes to articles, the monthly subscription fee drives away a substantial number of readers who were probably looking for one article in particular, or who just do not want to get into a monthly commitment.”
Kothari says readers who want to take the monthly subscriptions can go ahead as usual. “However, the feasibility of paying per article will certainly attract the category of people who are somewhere in the middle. How this whole thing pans out in the long run is something that we will be able to tell only with time.”
Sanghvi also believes that it’s a question of wait-and-see, stating that in any case, Twitter needs to find consumers who are ready to pay. “And that this can be done only when consumers are getting content that is relevant to them and access to information that affects them. This holds equally true for the publishers’ side as they want to reach consumers who’ll be interested in their news products.”
It is important to note that all these changes come even as many advertisers have paused or moved entirely out of advertising on the platform, taking a cue from liberal individuals and organizations who decried Musk’s seeming pandering to the right, including allowing political advertising and reinstating the accounts of ‘alt-right’ icons Donald Trump and the rapper known formerly as Kanye West.
That’s why, in what was clearly meant to be a soporific for advertisers, it was announced last week that Linda Yaccarino, the former head of advertising at NBC Universal, is taking over as CEO of Twitter in little more than a month. Musk will remain involved as executive chairman and chief technology officer, even as he reinstated his commitment to transforming Twitter into X, “the everything app”.
Stay tuned for a breakdown of that this week.