[PRO/CON] Paid Subscriptions to Online Content

Category: Social-Networking

Never mind the death of Net Neutrality. A bigger threat to the wallets of Internet consumers looms as social media platforms give content producers the tools to charge monthly subscription fees to consumers. But is that a bad thing? Read on for the forecast, and the pros and cons of a paid Internet social life...

Will Paid Subscriptions Fund Social Media or Kill It?

Are we headed for a future where budget considerations confine you to a tiny fraction of the YouTube channels, Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, etc., that you currently enjoy for free?

We've had paywalls on the Web for quite a few years. The print version of the New York Times is losing money, but the digital "All Access" version which costs $13/month brought in $340 million last year. The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and many regional newspapers likewise offer limited free online content, and charge for full access.

Facebook recently announced it is testing in limited markets a program that lets managers of Groups charge a monthly subscription fee to group members. A friend of mine received an offer from Facebook that looks like it could be part of this test.

Online paywalls - Pro/Con

The group involved in this experiment is all about silversmithing. The group’s manager is an expert in the field and strives to recruit other expert smiths and serious hobbyists to share their expertise in the group. The manager’s job requires a lot of hard work for which he would like to be compensated. The group’s experts are more inclined to share their expertise if they are compensated. The expertise that novices can acquire from pros translates into profitable products. This group is ideal for Facebook’s mentorship offer that my friend received.

The offer, which popped up in my friend’s news feed, did not mention subscriptions or money up front. It simply invited my friend to join the group as either a mentor (one who shares his expertise) or a mentee (one who receives the benefit of a mentor). Having no expertise in silversmithing nor ambition to become a silversmith, my friend passed on the offer. But he mentioned it to me and asked if it was another Facebook money-grab in disguise.

I don’t think it was, after some googling of “facebook mentor mentee.” Facebook has been offering nonprofit service organizations tools to connect mentors with mentees since September, 2017, at least, as this Tech Crunch article explains. Mark Zuckergberg has said it is one of his baby’s missions to connect you not only with “people you may know” but with people you should know who can help you improve your lot in life.

Will Your Facebook Group Charge a Fee?

Currently, groups using this mentorship program do not charge membership fees. But some of them certainly could; their subject matter is valuable enough to justify paying for access to it, and the ability to get questions answered by experts can be priceless to a novice entrepreneur or career changer. Nonprofits are always starving for “continuing donations,” so a subscription model is quite attractive to them.

If you receive an offer to mentor someone or become someone’s mentee, I hope you will click a bit further into it than my friend did, and let me know if you run into a subscription or monthly donation request. If you have already run across such a thing, please tell us about it in the comments on this post.

YouTube has created several programs that let content creators charge fees to viewers of their creations. According to a recent YouTube blog post,

“With Channel Memberships, viewers pay a monthly recurring fee of $4.99 to get unique badges, new emoji, Members-only posts in the Community tab, and access to unique custom perks offered by creators, such as exclusive livestreams, extra videos, or shout-outs. Channel Memberships have already been available for a select group of creators on YouTube as Sponsorships. We’ve seen a lot of creators find success with this new business model. So, we’ll soon be expanding this to eligible channels with more than 100,000 subscribers on YouTube under the new name Channel Memberships.”

Channel Memberships are just one money-making tool that YouTube offers to creators. “Premieres” will let creators upload snippets of their creations that YouTube will automatically promote to fans of such things, and allow the creators to charge admission to early releases of the completed projects, exclusive chats with the creators, and other perks. The Premieres tool will be available to eligible YouTube creators with 10,000 or more subscribers.

Merchandise sales will soon be available to YouTube creators thanks to the platform’s partnership with Teespring.com, which specializes in customizing t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, and other items that fans may purchase. Eligible YouTube creators with 10,000 subscribers or more can use this merchandise program to raise money.

Facebook and YouTube are not taking a cut of creators’ revenues derived from these new programs during their pilot phases. But it’s good bet that they will, if these programs catch on among creators and consumers. What sort of social media landscape might that lead to?


A rational creator will devote most of his efforts to the parts of his business that earn the most profit. That could lead to free content becoming scarcer and of lower quality. Consumers with money to spend could end up with the “good stuff” while those without money or the willingness to spend it drown in an ocean of dreck.

Of course, advertising supports “free” online services like Facebook. To the extent that a social network shares ad revenues with the creators on whose content ads appear, that revenue would incentivize creation of more, higher-quality content for consumers to enjoy free of charge.

Consumers might spend less time on social networks if they cannot access their favorite content channels or groups free of charge. They would have to choose a limited number of channels and groups to which they are able to subscribe. Those who can afford only “free” content might find its quality so low that they give up on social networks all together.

There is a potential silver lining here. Spending less time on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, et. al., strikes me as a socially desirable outcome. So perhaps it is time to start charging monthly subscription fees.

Could it possibly even result in children once again playing outdoors? Maybe that's too much to hope for, but we'll see where this goes. Also remember that 90 percent of what you worry about will never happen.

Your thoughts on this subject are welcome; please leave them in the comments section below.

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Most recent comments on "[PRO/CON] Paid Subscriptions to Online Content"

Posted by:

26 Jun 2018

Just wondering why your friend, "Having no expertise in silversmithing nor ambition to become a silversmith", received the offer?

That sounds like a degree of target creep setting in, sending things to folk who have no apparent connection with the subject matter.

Opportunistic/optimistic marketing perhaps?

Posted by:

Richard K
26 Jun 2018

'The moon is a harsh mistress' by Robert Heinlein.

Posted by:

Jay R
26 Jun 2018

It's the 10% of my worries coming true that really bothers me.

I can't imagine paying for content. My idea of getting a job is not creating YouTube content. I like to be able to sit down with my friends, face to face....and talk.....and have a meal.

Maybe I should consider this revenue stream, but I have to go work on a house right now. I know that I will get paid for my efforts with that job.

Posted by:

Big C
26 Jun 2018

Actually the term TANSTAAFL pre-dates "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" by at least a few decades.


Posted by:

26 Jun 2018

If these social media sites and others are going to mine & sell my data in order to sell me something in the form of targeted ads & spamming my email, is it wrong for me to expect something in return? That something would be free internet access to the social media sites with no degradation of content.

If someone wants to start a subscription based service for a particular interest, good on them, hope they get the subscribers they need to make it viable. But blanket subscriptions for all internet content is wrong especially in cases where there is no other choice. Not everyone's blog, video, app, game or opinion is interesting enough to get paid for. If you want to be an entrepeneur, there is risk involved and it's called your own financial investment. If you can't invest in yourself maybe you should rethink your direction.

Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
26 Jun 2018

"Consumers with money to spend could end up with the “good stuff” while those without money or the willingness to spend it drown in an ocean of dreck."

Sixty years ago, science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon wrote that 90% of science fiction is crap. In fact, he said, 90% of EVERYTHING is crap. 90% of most social media is no better, and it is arguably worse than that. Paid subscriptions to YouTube or newspapers isn't going to improve either youtube or newspapers.

Posted by:

26 Jun 2018

I am having a bit of a problem with the chosen word "mentor" in the context that it is being used here or there or everywhere or anywhere! It especially becomes quite oxymoronic when used together with the dollar sign in the same sentence.
R.Heinlein and T.Sturgeon may not have gotten the memo from Thomas Jefferson pertaining to Intellectual Property:
“That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air … incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”
I'd go one step further and include all information/knowledge to be shared freely. The reward system for such is (or should be) the satisfaction of paying forward. Nothing more; nothing less.
Yes, I do pay (dearly and yearly) for my WSJ that is delivered to my house 6 days/week and also subscribe to about a dozen magazines. Yet, my library card is still au gratis as it should be.
Mr. Rankin, I fully appreciate all that you freely do to make me less ignorant, but I'd rather be bliss [?] than pay for it! Thank you.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2018

I have been enjoying your articles for years and this one has made me think (a little, can't quite seem to get to the 142% smarter yet) about what I have been receiving without giving anything back.
Bob, I have just bought you a Snickers. Enjoy!

Posted by:

27 Jun 2018

I usually read news from Google News. When it redirected me to Washington Post or New York Times (as I remember), I used to get several first lines with offer to subscribe. What did I do? I excluded such sources from my news feed.

So in my case anybody who tries to offer me to pay money for any internet content, will lose me as a reader/viewer. Just think about the situation: Somebody tries to express their own point of view. THEIR OWN. They want us to pay attention to THEIR POINT OF VIEW. And wanted us to pay money for that. Sorry, pals, I have my own point of view and don't care if anybody else has another. Especially if they want money to express their views to me. It is like to require money for junk mail of advertisements everybody diverts from mail box straight to trash can.

Internet is a big junk yard and thank to search engines we are able to catch something valuable from that huge heap of garbage. I am not going to pay for garbage.

By the way, every source that asked for money for their content was from left side of political spectrum. And honestly, I am not surprised.

About mentoring - there are a lot of web sites that offer assistance for help from an expert for some money - as some amount or as donation. I am absolutely OK with that. You want help with some guarantee - pay for that. Monetizing social networking for me is unacceptable. I mean the core of it, not stuff like games or some other content for entertaining.

We still have free public libraries. How the Internet is different?

Information has to be free. No excuses.

Posted by:

Donna T
27 Jun 2018

The fact that Facebook has become a multi-billion dollar company without charging its customers upfront leads me to believe that paying for content is unnecessary. Personally, I will not use websites that require me to join for a fee. If Facebook begins to charge, I will delete my account without hesitation.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2018

Facebook nor any other social media will not get my money. They are free and I don't use them. They are a complete waste of time. I'd rather spend 24 watching paint dry than 10 minutes on Facebook.

Posted by:

Steven A Horn
27 Jun 2018

When a commercial publication puts a paywall in place, this presents no problems, particularly as companies who do usually supply limited access (x number of times before the paywall ends the user's access). Facebook is another story. There are groups on FB who limit access, some on the basis of geography and others based on subject content, and I have no trouble with that. But FB has no business hosting groups who want payment for access. The creators of such groups should be told
to create their own little empires elsewhere.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2018

This harks back to the days of Compuserve where some content was part of the basic subscription, some was "permium" needing an additional monthly payment on the subscription and other content charged "separately".

Back then though that was pretty much it for some of the information I was after (work paid to get to our needed forums). Today though it's easy (or fairly so) to copy information to other sites so while content like video/audio may be controlled by paywalls and DRM, information itself can and will still be distributed (so will the audio/video in all likelihood).

Trouble is producing and distributing is still expensive but people don't want to pay (or not as much as is being asked for) so ad's were introduces. Now if relevant and non-intrusive this could be OK - I don't mind ad's on Google searches, I am looking for something and if that something returns as an "ad" so what - but sometimes these ads are not relevant, they consume more "data" than the page around them, they are intrusive and sometimes can include "additional undesirable function". So people block ads which leads to less income and more chance of content being charged for.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2018

I don't use Facebook now though I do have an account, my association publishes its minutes there, I go on once every couple months. Never if they charged me. While there are some aspects of social media I enjoy, if they want me to pay for them, they'll lose me forever (Top Gun).

As pointed out, even the "free" resources make money from ads. I do have a digital newspaper subscription, as long as it's reasonable I'll do that. But I'll never pay for most things I do online, I'm just as happy offline, this isn't an addiction or a need, it's a service I use because it's there. If it weren't, I'd never miss it or think about it.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2018

I saw this coming. It's all bout GREED.

Posted by:

Eddy Bandel
28 Jun 2018

Just to let you all know: The Guardian, imho the best newspaper in the world, has no paywall whatsoever.

Posted by:

Bernie Sanders
03 Jul 2018

If you elect me President, I GUARANTEE EVERBODY that all things internet will be FREE, FREE, FREE.

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