View profile

Facebook might ask us to like and subscribe

Revue
 
Programming note: For all but 11 percent of you, yesterday's Interface went to your spam filter. The
 
May 4 · Issue #130 · View online
The Interface
Programming note: For all but 11 percent of you, yesterday’s Interface went to your spam filter. The bad news is that all the news in there is a day old. The good news is that there is additional social media-and-democracy content for you to enjoy this weekend! Read yesterday’s issue here.
When I can pay to remove ads from something, I usually do. I paid $5 to strip them from my solitaire app of choice. I pay extra for the ad-free version of Hulu. And I am one of an apparent few who subscribes to YouTube Red, not for the original programming (which is abysmal) but because it removes all of those annoying pre-rolls and mid-rolls.
Over the past two months, Facebook has gotten repeated questions — including from Congress — about why it doesn’t offer an ad-free subscription product itself. The company has considered the idea in the past, but it has begun to take it more seriously lately, Sarah Frier reports:
Facebook Inc. has been conducting market research in recent weeks to determine whether an ad-free version paid by subscriptions would spur more people to join the social network, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company has studied such an option in the past, but now there’s more internal momentum to pursue it in light of Facebook’s recent privacy data scandal, the people said. The plans aren’t solid and may not go forward, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a subscription-based ad-free service.
New York Magazine’s Max Read balks at the idea: “The people most likely to subscribe are also the people who currently make Facebook the most money,” he tweeted. “To recoup the loss facebook would have to charge ~$100 a year.” He continued: “Facebook’s entire product has been designed around an engagement/attention/advertising model. Who wants to pay for Facebook as it’s currently designed? A subscription product people would value at $100/year would need to be designed from the ground up.”
In this view, Facebook is a thing you stare at in a narcotized haze, barely even aware of the ads scrolling past your eyeballs. Remove the ads, the thinking goes, and the product is hardly more valuable. Or at least, it’s not $100 a year more valuable.
But this argument collapses on itself: in Read’s formulation, an ad-free Facebook is both not attractive enough to be viable, and … so viable that it would cost Facebook too much ad revenue. It might be one, but I don’t see how it can be both.  
I agree that an ad-free Facebook appears less attractive on its surface than, say, ad-free YouTube. YouTube is a place I go to explore my interests, and the 30-second delay that triggers before most the videos I click discourages me from exploring them. Facebook ads, on the other hand, are much easier to blow past.
But Facebook, too, is ramping up its video production efforts. In the next few months, we’ll see the launch of news programs in the Watch tab. Watch Parties got a prominent shout-out during F8 this week. The company continues to fund original content. If and when there’s a hit Facebook show — and the odds are that there will be eventually — being able to watch it on demand, ad free, will be worth something to someone.
And if Facebook doesn’t make all its money back on those subscribers? They might benefit in other ways. It would rob Facebook’s critics of one of their chief complaints — that they can’t use the product without being surveilled — and likely reduce the risk of regulation. It would be a gesture of goodwill from a company that has lately found itself at a deficit. It would, in short, build trust. 
An ad-free Facebook might not be a good business proposition from a revenue standpoint. But that just might be the reason to do it.

Democracy
Google sets new rules for U.S. election ads
Facebook Targets Major Far-Right Group In France
Much Remains Unknown About Russian-Troll Accounts on Social-Media Giants
Can Facebook and Google’s new federal watchdogs regulate tech?
Elsewhere
Vine co-founder postpones successor v2 for “indefinite amount of time”
When a stranger takes your face: Facebook’s failed crackdown on fake accounts
Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Wants Universal Basic Income
A Bot Network Stealing Twitter Identities Ran Its Scam For Days Before Being Taken Down
Snap cuts off licensing fees for Snapchat Discover publishers
Fortnite “free V-Bucks” scams are taking over YouTube: what’s going on?
Launches
BuzzFeed launched the Fake Newsletter, a regular update about digital deception
And finally ...
Your Phone Is Almost Out of Battery. Remain Calm. Call A Doctor
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? How much would you pay for an ad-free version of The Interface? casey@theverge.com
Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here
Powered by Revue