Elon Musk on Saturday announced a plan for his Twitter platform to allow media publishers to charge users on a per-article basis with a single click.
“This enables users who would not sign up for a monthly subscription to pay a higher per article price for when they want to read an occasional article,” the billionaire entrepreneur said on Twitter, adding, “Should be a major win-win for both media orgs & the public.”
He said the plan would begin next month, but provided no details on exact pricing or what cut Twitter would take.
The announcement came as Musk has been struggling, amid frequent controversy, to make Twitter profitable.
Media organisations have wrestled for years with how to formulate subscription plans that pay their operating costs even as readers have grown accustomed to getting news free on the internet.
The Musk plan raises questions about how exactly he hopes to make the micro-payment approach work when others have failed.
British journalist James Ball listed several problems with micro-payment — an idea, he wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, that has “definitely occurred to major publishers across the planet”.
Many readers will simply click away when encountering a paywall, he noted. And publishers “vastly” prefer to sign up full-time subscribers, which bring far more in ad revenue than the 20 cents or so from the sale of a single article.
Several people posting on Twitter raised other objections. The per-article approach, they said, could encourage a flourishing of “click bait,” it might favour big publishers over small ones, and it is unclear that authors — not just news groups — would see any profits.
But some on Twitter reacted positively.
“Great idea,” tweeted user Greg Autry. “As a frequent author in publications like Forbes, Foreign Policy, and Ad Astra I’m often frustrated when my work ends up behind a paywall that my followers aren’t willing to subscribe to. This is the right solution.”
And Carlos Gil, author of a book on marketing, tweeted: “Finally, a pay-per-view for news that won’t make you feel like you’re buying an overpriced stadium beer. Get your articles à la carte and keep your wallet happy.”