X’s “X Premium” subscription program, formerly known as “Twitter Blue”, hasn’t been the solution that Elon Musk had initially hoped when he re-pitched the initiative late last year as a means to combat bots in the app, while also providing X with an alternate revenue stream. Thus far, X Premium take-up has remained very low, with only around 0.3% of X users signing up to the scheme, which gives you a blue checkmark for your profile, as well as a range of other add-on features.
But what if X took things to the next level, and started charging everybody to use the app?
Would more people pay? Or would X ultimately lose out as those who’ve resisted paying simply move on to other apps?
This is the question that Musk and co are apparently mulling over, with, potentially, a lower-priced version of X Premium on the way, which could become a requirement for using the app.
Musk mentioned the proposal in an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when discussing the progress of X, as he re-imagines the app in his expanded “everything app” vision.
As per Musk (in response to a question about the prevention of armies of bots):
“The single most important reason that we’re moving to having a small monthly payment for use of the X system is that it’s the only way I can think of to combat vast armies of bots. Because a bot costs a fraction of a penny, or a tenth of a penny, but if somebody even has to pay a few dollars or something, some minor amount, the effective cost of bots is very high, and then you also have to get a new payment method every time you have a new bot.”
This is pretty much in line with Musk’s previous statements on his subscription push, that by charging a small amount, that facilitates what Musk and his team have previously called “payment verification”, with the logic being that it not only becomes cost-prohibitive to create bot armies, but also, there’s an additional ID requirement, in that you need to connect a bank account to each profile.
But Musk also added this note:
“We’re actually going to come out with lower tier pricing. We want it to be just a small amount of money [and] in my view, this is actually the only defense against vast armies of bots.”
Musk then alluded to the threat of AI systems in this respect, which he believes will significantly increase the capacity for scammers to create fake profiles in the app.
There’s no further detail available as yet, but presumably, X is planning to launch a cheaper verification offering, maybe $3 or $4 per month, which would likely provide the basics of the X Premium package, or maybe just a verification tick to confirm your identity. X could also integrate that with its recently launched ID verification process, potentially charging a small fee to confirm your ID via third-party partner au10tix.
X could then move to make this a requirement, locking out all non-paying users. Which would be a drastic shift, especially while X is still largely reliant on ad dollars, and thus, reach remains its biggest incentive. But it could also be a step in the right direction in regards to Musk’s grand vision, in that it would link an active bank account to every X profile, which would then move people closer to facilitating payments, and potentially banking, in the app, which is the backbone of his next level push.
So it could serve a dual purpose, in both upping the cost of running bot accounts, and linking payments into the app. It makes sense, but it would also have a big impact on X’s growth, especially in developing markets, where any cost of access would likely de-prioritize the app as a connective option.
That’s the big risk. By paywalling the app, X could instead see far fewer users logging on, as it would immediately raise the question of whether the app is worth paying for, or whether we could live without it. It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of X users never actually post in the app, they simply read and react to updates from a small number of highly active users. In fact, just 25% of X users create 97% of all the posts in the app.
At present, that would mean that only around 137 million monthly X users are actually posting anything at all in the app. Maybe, if you can get all of these users to pay, that would be enough to offset any potential revenue losses, and it’s certainly a lot more than the current 700k or so X Premium subscribers.
That could be X’s plan, to appeal to these users to become paying subscribers, even if it means losing some lesser engaged lurkers, and harming its overall stats. It could even make X a more premium ad option, as advertisers would know that those using the platform have enough money to pay the monthly cost. It’s risky, but maybe?
It's also worth noting that Elon hasn’t directly stated that X will be moving to a wholly pay-to-play model, he’s just said that they’re looking to further incentivize X Premium sign-up by offering a lower-priced option. Maybe that’s the only change incoming, and maybe that will increase X subscriptions enough to make it a more effective tool in this respect.
But X has considered pay-gating the app before, and it does sound like that could still be in play.
Maybe, this will be the next big shift for the former bird app, as Elon looks to move it another step away from what was, and closer to what could be.