[PRO/CON] Paid Subscriptions to Online Content
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.
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.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 26 Jun 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- [PRO/CON] Paid Subscriptions to Online Content (Posted: 26 Jun 2018)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved