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Digital Subscriptions

June 21, 2023

4 minutes

Unanswered questions about Twitter’s micropayments are plentiful

This article was first published by International News Media Association

On April 30, 2023, Elon Musk famously announced that Twitter will allow media publishers to charge users on a per-article basis with one click.

He never specified how this would be executed in reality. We dive into the questions publishers should be asking.

The April announcement addresses something users have been asking for, but Elon Musk has failed to explain the logistics of how this would work.

Where will the user access content?

It’s unclear if Twitter will host the content and provide publishers a content management system to upload content, either via RSS or manually. Or, will Twitter allow users to click through to the publisher’s site?

How will content be displayed on a Twitter Card? Will publishers have any say on the pricing of the content? Will pricing be dynamic based on the audience, and will it be localized for the user?

This is a hypothetical rendition of what a Twitter Card might look like for a New York Times article surfacing on the Twitter Feed for a user from India.

What data will be shared?

Will Twitter share first party data about their users with the publisher? If yes, how will GDPR compliance be handled? Will data transfer take place in real time or offline? If real time, will Twitter cater for the various customer relationship management (CRM) and customer data platform (CDP) systems different publishers use?

It is obvious that if Twitter does share first-party data with the publisher, then every publisher will go out and try to acquire the user directly. If Twitter does not share first-party data with publishers, then how different is this from the original Blendle or the dozen other micropayment-led content syndicates out there?

How will access rights be managed?

If the user is expected to consume the full content inside Twitter, I reckon it will be relatively easy for Twitter to build out a sophisticated digital rights management system on a per-article basis. In this scenario, publishers should simply expect a paycheck at the end of the month with no visibility into the audiences consuming their content, much like any other content syndicate such as Spotify, Medium, or Blendle.

However, if the user is redirected to the publisher’s Web site after making a micro-payment on Twitter, what system upgrades will publishers have to make? It is unclear if Twitter will pass through a personal ID or anonymous Twitter ID of paying users, and how publishers will manage access rights vis-à-vis their internal identity management systems.

Publishers will need the ability to grant access to a specific content for a specific user for a specific period of time. They’ll also need to replicate the access rights back on Twitter such that the user does not accidentally pay for it again.

How will payments be collected and disbursed?

Users on mobile devices prefer local e-wallets and native banking rails globally. Not everyone uses Apple Pay or Google Pay, and just integrating a Stripe checkout won’t cut it in a high-frequency environment.

Moreover, people will want to store value on Twitter for easier one-click checkout. But does Twitter have an e-wallet license to store unutilised value on behalf of the user?

Next, will these transactions be considered a sale of digital goods by Twitter as a reseller or would it be on behalf of the publisher? Who is liable to pay taxes, and how will accounting work for publishers? What data and systems will be put in place by Twitter to address the deluge of cross-border transactions and the associated tax implications for the publisher?

What happens to non-Twitter never-subscribers?

On a good day, Twitter might feed 10% to 30% of a publisher’s site traffic. But never-subscribers loom large from all corners of the earth and many traffic sources.

Whether or not Twitter’s per-article payments bring value to publishers, the larger question is what publishers are going to do about never-subscribers landing on their site. How do you build a subscriptions funnel and convert never-subscribers to subscribers? How do you leverage first party data to improve your advertising yields?

In the end

If anything at all, Elon’s tweet confirms the massive opportunity that exists for digital publishers. In light of peak subscriptions and declining advertising yields, harnessing complimentary monetisation and first-party data opportunities with never-subscribers is the next frontier every publisher will be looking to crack.

Abhishek Sharma

Abhishek SHARMA is a Co-Founder and CTO of Fewcents, a plug-and-play solution for publishers and creators to collect small payments in 80+ currencies. He has 18 years of experience in strategic consulting, vendor management, project and delivery management, business analysis, solution design, and application development. He specializes in building high-frequency trading systems, integrating with payment partners such as Paypal, Stripe, etc, and working on regulatory risk engines using big data technologies. Prior to this, Abhishek worked at DBS Bank, Credit Agricole, and MSCI Inc.

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