What If: Twitter Started Charging $5/Month

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Fail Whale

As you probably know, I'm a fairly frequent Twitterer (@davidwalshblog). I tweet about programming, life, sports, and even reply to my friend's dog's tweets. I promote MooTools via @mootools, promote Script & Style via @scriptandstyle, and follow what people are saying about me via the search RSS feed. Twitter has become a major piece of my reader interaction and everyday MooTools promotion.

And I'm one of the sane tweeters too. You can run into people like Rey Bango and Chad Ocho Cinco that tweet so often that they've been single-handedly responsible for taking Twitter down. I don't auto-tweet blog posts either so those type of tweets don't fly into your Twitter homepage. My point is that I don't use my Twitter account for promotion nearly as much as many other persons or industries. Twitter has become, in many cases, a better traffic-driving tool that Google Adsense...and Twitter is free.

But what if Twitter wasn't free? What if Twitter charged $5/month per account? Or $1? Or $10?

I think there would be some initial backlash, especially from periodical users. Twitter knockoffs would pop up left and right, none of which would come close to capturing the market share like Twitter. Users would revolt and hit message boards and IRC expressing their fury. Twitter application creators would scream bloody murder.

Obviously $10 per month is far too much for 80% of Twitterers. Most don't care enough to stick with a service that will cost them $120 a year. The other problem would be collection; Twitter would need to deal with currency conversion and methods of payment. On the flip side, $1 or $2 wouldn't be worth it to Twitter to spin the pot. But $5 is a good medium as far as price. Businesses would gladly pay the $5 per month to promote the product, even if there was a significant dropoff in the number of users. Celebrities have so much money they'd just pay it.

What this would really come down to was how hooked an average user was to the service and how valuable the networking, promotion, and searchable information was. I'd definitely pay the $5/month -- $5 is not a significant amount of money to me and I'd gladly shell out a $5 bill not to see ads all over the place, be able to connect with other devs, and to promote the love of my life: MooTools.

Implementing a fee probably wouldn't work at this point. The USA national media just started to recognize and use Twitter and Twitter shouldn't risk losing that momentum. Moreover the service itself isn't stable enough to charge for. Twitter has, however, become an invaluable tool to those that use it effectively.

What do you think? Would you pay for Twitter? How much?

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  1. Ahmed

    I don’t know Dave, but I’m personally used to Twitter as a wonderful free social networking service. Having an extra paid service is a good idea. But to charge everyone just to tweet? Nah, it’s not the best thing they can do and I’ll probably stop using it.

  2. For me, I won’t pay, but will just move to other micro-blogging site like http://identi.ca/

  3. Nah, I wouldn’t pay a dime for Twitter. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy it, but I don’t get any actual value out of my use. I have a couple hundred followers (I don’t know why) and they rarely reply to my delightful tweets. I’m not even sure if they are real people. So it’s basically just me talking to myself and I don’t need to spend $5 to do that!

    The real question is what premium services could Twitter offer that are worth $5 to you, but won’t adversely affect all the masses who don’t need or want them.

  4. Ben

    No chance I’d pay, but I’m interested to know which parts of Twitter you think could be available only to paying users.

    I personally don’t tweet all that often (not often enough to justify paying for it), but I always have TwitterFox open and follow plenty of people. If Twitter started charging to tweet, it wouldn’t affect me all that much, but would affect all those regular tweeters I follow. And if they stopped tweeting, I’d probably stop using the site altogether.

    If they charged for accessing others’ tweets (a pretty inconceivable and potentially disastrous idea), nobody would use the site. The awesome API would be rendered useless, and there are plenty of other places on the internet that will tell me what my favourite celebrity had for lunch.

  5. Chris

    David, you forgot to consider that when twitter loses 80 % of its users (and I dare say even 95 %) it isn’t attractive for companies any more, thus they won’t see the benefit of paying for twitter. I think twitter would go down.

  6. You could ask the same question about any social networking site. Free to get in and use most features, a subscription to go ads free and some extras can work.

    What if Facebook started charging $5/mo? What if wordpress.org, somehow, charged $1 to download it? What if wikipedia charged people to read the most popular/some subset of the entire site? A lot of things just wouldn’t get the user’s they need to survive.

  7. Arik Beremzon


    I think that the fact that such services are free is one of the sources that drives them. If Twitter were to charge money, then that would kill off most of the community in term lowering the appeal for large corporations such as CNN to look into Twitter. On a sidenote, check this out: http://su.pr/

    I got that link from Tim Ferriss’ blog and while I haven’t figured out the real ‘magic’ behind it yet, it should be something good since it’s from the people behind stumbleupon.


  8. If I had tons of followers and I thought that the majority of them would also pay £3 a month then I would happily pay that much but I think the fact is that probably 90% of users would stop using twitter so it wouldn’t be worth it for businesses.

  9. On the flip side, $1 or $2 wouldn’t be worth it to Twitter to spin the pot.

    Whilst there are no official figures, Twitter users is probably aroung 10milllion (my guess) so, assuming that everyone coughed up the $1 that would be a hell lot of money in the bank each month!

    However I agree with everyone else, this would never happen. Twitter would die in a matter of weeks (or at least it would start to until they changed it back). If Twitter needs (wants) money, they could simpy stick a tiny amount of advertising in amongst the tweets.

  10. I wouldn’t quibble over Twitter charging a nominal fee for extra features. In my experience there are 2 types of users. Casual users and Heavy users. For casual users it should always be free. For heavy users, a nominal fee to unlock additional features or unlock additional api calls doesn’t seem out of place.

    Personally I wouldn’t like to pay for twitter, I simply don’t get enough out of it.

  11. I wouldn’t mind paying. But 85% of my friends wouldn’t.. which makes the service pretty much useless in light of what it has become.

  12. @Chris: I didn’t forget that — I honestly expected more comments saying that people would pay.

  13. Boris

    I don’t think I would pay. There are already alternatives with more functionality then twitter. In addition some celebrities have costume twitter pages that include features that regular users like us have no access to. I can guess they are paying for that.

  14. i would pay! i dont know if it will be worth $5 a month but i would pay. i dont understand why they dont have a donate button somewhere on the page or let people (who want to donate) take some kind of subscription.
    another advantage of paying for the service is ofcourse the decrease of spammers. now all the populair topics get spammed x100000 so that other (new) hot topics wont make it (as fast). i also get annoyed by the tweets i get about buying hardware when i tweet about a computer of my iphone. i would pay for a spamfree twitter!

  15. come on man, what happened to you? You are giving them ideas :D
    first to sell the short url service to a p*rn company, now to pay for their services?

    now seriously, my business is not “on twitter”, but for people who really are getting some cash from twiter – no matter how ( followers that means traffic that means high price for advertising, etc..) a paid service would be ok. The only problem is that would need to be something free/paid, because only paid, will loose fast its users…
    I see a dilemma here….

  16. Irnottellung

    I think if they kept the service free for followers, but paid for tweeters. That might actually work. Becouse the only sucessfull, god this submit thing is pritty, ?twitterers? will find a way to earn money anyway.

    And it will weed out some of the worthless contentless twitter feeds ! On the other side, a free service gets +10 popularity.

  17. Why not!? Twitter is the most cool micro-blogging & FTW website out there. I’d even pay up to $29.99 monthly to twit my thoughts!

  18. I’m not against the “pay for extra feature” thing as long as there is still a free part. We are actually thinking about doing this on the website I work on (supposing it will take off one day). I like what flickr does, offering extra statistics to paying users.
    Regarding twitter, I’m not an active user, but if I were, I would eventually pay a couple bucks, but its should be something small, like $20 a years would be reasonable. I’m a member on cgsociety.org where I pay something like $35 year and I have been doing for three years, definitely worth it

  19. I would definitely not pay to use twitter. I think it would be more wise to cap the amount tweets you can post (to keep costs down) and put advertisements on the page.

  20. Facundo

    IMHO, if Twitter starts to charge it will be its end. Most people won’t pay, and the ones that agree to pay would run away in a few months due to the logical decrease on followers. I think that “premium” accounts would be a better business model for Twitter.

  21. I doubt I would pay the $10 or even the $5. However, I wouldn’t mind something like $0.05 or $0.10 per tweet. I mean I usually tweet once a day. So I’d be willing to pay about $3 a month max.

  22. Paying $60/year to watch the failwhale? No way! Twitter is a great distraction. I don’t use it for marketing I use it for connecting. Same as facebook. Although I think I might consider paying for facebook. Something in the neighbourhood of $30/year.

  23. No such service has lasted in popularity for more than a few years. Twitter will come and go whether they charge for it or not. Charging would merely speed up the inevitable.

  24. carl

    there’s some much better models as; 0.1 cent per tweet after x tweets (x=500?) are sent to get verified as a “serious” tweeter, otherwise perhaps not as a serious tweeter. Serious meaning.. appearing in “who to follow” and such. Would make the content cleaner

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