Would you pay for an ad-free subscription to Facebook?
The idea has long been discussed, but the recent data scandals have given the proposal a new lease of life, with Bloomberg reporting that the company's been conducting market research to determine whether an ad-free version, funded by subscriptions, would be of benefit.
It’s tough to determine the viability of such a move – on one hand, the option of a subscription model would enable Facebook to limit data access, as they wouldn’t need to offer user data to third parties for ad targeting. Of course, that data remains on Facebook, it’s not handed to the advertising organizations themselves, but it could offer users more assurance, and a better experience, knowing that their personal habits and leanings are not potentially being exploited, particularly by political groups.
On the other, would people actually be willing to pay up to use a service they’ve long had access to for free?
As part of a recent deep dive into the option, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine determined that in order to reach the same levels of revenue Facebook already does from advertising, the company would need to charge around $7 a month, per user, for access - but that fee might blow out to $11, even $14 per month if users without financial means were forced off the platform due the extra cost.
And there’s also the question of whether it’s in Facebook’s broader business interests to do so. The company has built the most advanced ad platform in the world, and raked in $40 billion in revenue last year, with the vast majority coming from advertising. The platform’s revenue also keeps climbing – building in a wholly subscription-based model could limit that potential, and would be a significant departure, particularly given their ongoing success.
But maybe users want such an option. In his recent congressional hearing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that ‘there will always be a version of Facebook that is free’, while acknowledging that they are examining all options.
Offering both an ad-funded, free version, and a paid, premium, ad-free experience could be the way to go, but even then, the business implications would be significant.
And then, of course, there’s the potential impact on social media marketers if more users chose to tune them out. How do you reach people on the world’s biggest social network when they actively chose not to hear from you?
It still seems unlikely at this stage, Facebook’s business eco-system is constructed around their ad network - and as noted, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of motivation for them to potentially restrict their potential growth levels. But the fact that Facebook is even exploring this line of thought is worthy of note – we’ll keep you updated on any progress.