Remember what it was like in the old days, back when Facebook said it would always be free? A week ago, for example?

There it was, every time you logged in (assuming you could ever actually log out): 

It's free and always will be.

Actually, the promise is still there, but it contrasts with another message from Facebook: "Introducing Subscription Groups for Admins."

That's what Facebook announced via a press release yesterday.

It goes on to explain how it's going to try charging you for access to some private groups on the platform:

We hear from group admins that they're looking for ways to help them earn money ... Many admins do this today by creating an additional subscribers-only group that sits alongside their existing group, and rely on additional tools to track and collect payments.

...

This subscription groups pilot is testing with a small number of groups across a range of interests who will share input and feedback along the way.

...

As we learn from this pilot and understand how group members feel about subscription groups, we'll continue to improve this experience to help admins offer more to their members and continue to invest in their communities.

Lots of euphemisms in there. But Facebook thinks a lot of people are probably paying to be in groups already. Maybe they won't even notice.

Look, Facebook exists and profits for one reason only: because of the content that you, and I--and brands, and publishers, and group administrators--gather together and distribute there.

No content, no audience.

No audience, no profits.

Heck, there's about a 15 or 20 percent chance that you're reading this article, right now, because you saw it on Facebook. 

So, Facebook needs content. But at the same time, content producers need to earn money. Facebook heard that loud and clear when it held in-person meetings in 2017 for group administrators. They're happy to run their groups, admins said, but they can't keep doing all this for free.

Yet, isn't it striking: Facebook's solution isn't to share its ad revenue.

They're not offering cash directly for the traffic the groups bring to the site.

Instead, they're creating a mechanism to let groups charge the user directly--a.k.a. you--without even the gentlest touch on Facebook's bottom line.

Go back and take a quick look at the long block quote, especially the second sentence.

Many admins [already] do this today...

See? Facebook isn't even opening a new revenue stream to its content creators and curators. Instead, it's hijacking a revenue stream that admins and outside technologies already created--because Facebook didn't do it fast enough.

As TechCrunch points out, "The feature bills through iOS and Android, [so] those operating systems get their 30 percent cut of a user's first year of subscription and 15 percent after that."

At least Facebook isn't asking for a revenue share for itself.

Not yet anyway. But I notice it's not promising never to do so, this time.

Published on: Jun 22, 2018
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