Twitter wants to partner with publishers and allow customers of its “Blue” subscription product to bypass paywalls on their sites, according to new owner Elon Musk.
Musk tweeted on Tuesday about possible changes to its Blue service: For $8 a month, he said Blue could offer an updated feature set including account verification and blue checkmarks, the ability to post longer audio and video, and half as many ads.
Notably for publishers, he added that it could also feature a “paywall bypass for publishers willing to work with” the company, which he said would “also give Twitter a revenue stream to reward content creators.”
Since launching a year ago Blue has offered its subscribers the ability to view content from a network of publisher sites without advertising. As we noted at the time, the ability to access publishers’ paywalled content seemed a logical next step from Twitter’s perspective, with Twitter compensating publishers either with direct payment or potentially with user data such as email addresses.
Musk didn’t disclose any specifics about how publishers might be compensated for letting Blue users access their paid content, and it’s unlikely any serious conversations with publishers have taken place since his purchase of the social media service closed last week.
What’s in it for publishers?
The ability to bypass publishers’ paywalls via Twitter could prove an appealing prospect for users but – although many will entertain the idea – it’s hard to see most publishers getting excited about such an arrangement without highly attractive terms and compensation arrangements in place.
Many publishers – particularly those operating subscription products – have spent the past few years trying to actively wrest back control of their audience relationships from large platforms and intermediaries. The prospect of inserting a platform such as Twitter between them and their audience runs counter to the approaches many publishers are currently employing.
The viability of such an arrangement in publishers’ eyes would depend entirely on the details, however. For example: If publishers were compensated financially by Twitter, granted tight control over which (and how much) content is offered to Blue subscribers, and given access to valuable user data such as email addresses, the opportunity could be attractive to some.
It’s safe to assume some publishers would experiment with such a program regardless and – dependent on their strategies and the nature of their content, audiences and businesses – could find ways to use it to their advantage. And if similar publisher initiatives from major platforms in recent years are an indication, Twitter would likely begin by handing out attractive checks to publishers in order to get their attention.
Nevertheless, the majority of subscription publishers will likely approach the idea cautiously – particularly those that are offering highly differentiated subscription content and products, and succeeding in generating meaningful revenue directly from their audiences. We’ll wait to see what details emerge and the types of discussions Twitter has with publishers, but it’s currently hard to see those with robust subscription businesses viewing such an opportunity as a smart strategic move in the long term.