Would you pay to use Facebook?
During Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before a US Senate committee last week, Florida’s Bill Nelson asked the Facebook boss whether he had considered moving to a freemium model, with some users paying to ensure better treatment of their data or to avoid advertising.
I see nothing wrong with the idea of paying for a service on the internet: I pay for a lot of things I thought I would never pay for, and have no problem with that. Freemium models abound, and although their viability is always in the balance, there are companies that do well using them, such as Dropbox or Spotify, and that have been able to go public based on expectations of growth.
Why pay for something you can get for free? There are many reasons, and I would highlight the following:
- Sustainability: some users decide to pay for a service in the belief they are helping to make the service sustainable, preserving its viability, because they value it, that the investment is worth it, and gain a sense of satisfaction from contributing their grain of sand. A good example would be the Wikipedia donation model, but there are many more, such as Patreon.
- Activism: similar to the previous reasons, but elevating the service to the level of a cause. . We can all use the services of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) or Fight for the Future (FFTF), for example, but if we also pay, we support the causes these services defend.
- Eliminate annoyances: free access to a service is usually accompanied by certain annoyances designed to remind users they can avoid them by paying. The clearest example of this is probably Spotify, about which I have written recently, or YouTube Red, but Facebook could, if it were to go for a payment model, join this category. Some publications, such as Wired, also use it.
- Prestige or recognition: paying for services provides a certain prestige, putting the user among the elite. Some online learning platforms, such as Coursera, offer diplomas to those who pay for its courses, fall into this category.
There are other models, many of them combing the formulas outlined above. Facebook’s challenge would be to sell the social network as a vital service, even though most people still regard it as superficial, little more than an online photo album. Facebook could offer a similar payment model to Spotify’s, but with nuances: the idea of accessing its services without the hassle of advertising seems unpersuasive, given the company’s commitment to a non-intrusive advertising model, which could lead it either to introducing annoying advertising models or some kind of commitment on the treatment of user data, which could be interpreted as blackmail. Nevertheless, the idea of paying for privileged treatment of your data or protection from traditional advertising or segmentation systems, along the lines of a Robinson list could be interesting for people who want to protect their privacy while continuing to use a service that keeps them in touch with friends, family or like-minded people.
Zuckerberg’s response to Senator Nelson’s question does not seem to indicate that Facebook is about to start offering a paid service:
“… we don’t offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads. We think offering an ad-supported service is the most aligned with our mission of trying to help connect everyone in the world, because we want to offer a free service that everyone can afford.”
If, at some point in the future, Facebook decided to introduce some kind of freemium model, how many of us would take it up? I don’t consider Facebook a fundamental part of my life, because I’m not dependent on the traffic it sends to my page, which has no advertising. That said, I might give the idea some thought. But what about all those businesses that use Facebook to reach their audience, to provide customer service or provide a communication channel? To date, these services pay for advertising to maintain a reach that they once obtained for free. Could Facebook design a model whereby it charges users who make money from it, who need analytics or who think that without Facebook they would find it harder to reach their users?
(En español, aquí)