Twitter under Elon Musk. What does it mean for digital publishers?

After only one week in control of Twitter, tech billionaire Elon Musk tasked staff to carry out his ambitious plans to increase subscription income. All of this is happening as many Twitter advertisers have suspended their campaigns due to uncertainty over the kind of "free expression" that Elon Musk would permit.

The whole media and entertainment sector, which includes all corporations with a Twitter presence, is closely following Musk's surprising manoeuvres and unsure of how to respond. 

As the storm continues to rage, let’s explore what Musk’s Twitter might eventually look like and what that means for freedom of speech, public trust in social media and the future of newspapers and magazines.


Free Speech?

Musk has stated that he is a "free speech absolutist." He's been a vocal opponent of Twitter's moderation standards, which aim to keep the network from being used to harass, intimidate, or promote misinformation. It's still unclear what he will do, but it's evident he favours a more laissez-faire attitude to moderation — a view that, if followed at a business level, would undoubtedly put him at odds with various regulators.


Power to the people? 

Public trust in social media and the media, in general, has suffered significantly since the outbreak of Covid-19. Concerns over false news are at an all-time high globally, according to a recent Edelman poll, while confidence in newspapers and television has declined, according to a Gallup survey.

According to Business Insider, one of Elon Musk's motivations for purchasing Twitter is to combat the "negative bias" in traditional media. Musk is quoted as saying: "I think there’s an important role for the media to play but for anyone who’s read a newspaper, it’s coming through quite a negative lens…[Twitter is] the best forum for communicating with a lot of people simultaneously and getting the message directly to people”.  Thus he is planning to share the Twitter algorithm with the whole public.


Twitter Subscription Business Model

In his first move in overhauling the product, Elon Musk stated that Twitter would provide a premium membership service for $8 per month that will verify users with the blue tick, increase the visibility of their tweets, and allow them to view fewer adverts. General views are that tampering with the blue tick might not be the wisest course of action. Media amplification is one of the factors that, despite Twitter's still-relatively-small user base, has helped it become a cultural force. Presidents, the pope, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the people that use Twitter to make announcements or respond to events with the understanding that those words would be shared on other channels. News organisations won't be able to treat articles as mini-press conferences without the blue check. On the other hand, journalists use the blue check on Twitter to confirm their credentials when sharing material and contacting sources; it is unclear how news organisations will handle their reporters' accounts under Musk's suggestion.

The understanding that media is never truly free is reflected in Musk's pay-to-verify idea, something those of us in traditional media have recognised for ages. “We need to pay the bills somehow,” he pleaded in a Twitter exchange with author Stephen King. 

The Times and other traditional media outlets had to learn this lesson the hard way. Many networks, news outlets, and publishing platforms offered their material online for free in the early days of the digital revolution with the mistaken hope that it would serve as a secondary platform. Many organisations, like The Times, had to start charging for what they had previously given out for free when it became clear that the digital medium was the sole platform for an increasing number of people. Digital content is not magic. It does not create itself, and people expect to be paid for their work.


Our thoughts?

Elon Musk opted to adopt the subscription model to remodel Twitter without any reluctance after spending $44 billion to purchase it. The question is would anyone be willing to pay to use the platform?

Audiences have largely accepted the subscription business model in their everyday life, be it from your morning coffee to the consumption of content so this model may be a positive move for Twitter. The subscription service will be essential to Twitter's eventual comeback and Musk is not afraid to introduce this to the social media platform's digital strategy.

The number of Twitter users is the major issue with Musk's policy. As Musk subsequently tweeted, since his takeover, active users had increased by 15 million, to 255 million, according to internal business documents acquired by The Verge. If fewer than half of all users chose to pay, profits would still be significant, but if just 10% or so do, it won't be. But Musk believes in the pay for news model.

Twitter Blue comes with less ads and the ability to post longer videos along with verification.

Musk made public criticism about the lack of assistance he gets from business advertising. Currently, 89% of Twitter's revenue comes from advertising, but Musk thinks that this is too much of a good thing. One argument in favour of the subscription model is that advertisers would carry less weight, as is the case in the media among publications that have taken similar steps. Another reason for Elon Musk’s confidence in the subscription model is the lack of a viable immediate alternative, a preference for a text-based platform, and the impact it has had on a generation that relies on it as their main information source, as well as the fact that they are not particularly interested in trying other platforms, maybe the key to its success.

Another question that may be pertinent is which social media platform is the next to adopt the monetization policy. 

For customers who are willing to pay for them, Facebook parent firm Meta Platforms Inc. has announced that it would soon introduce specialised services to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The Verge reported that Meta is establishing a new department dubbed New Monetization Experiences that would investigate paid features on its well-known social media platforms.



The subscription business model has become commonplace in the period we now live in therefore, we believe the same will be crucial to Twitter's ultimate recovery, and Musk isn't scared to include this into the social media platform's digital strategy. Musk's pay-to-verify concept reflects the knowledge that media is never truly free, something those of us in conventional media have long recognized. This experience has been a tough pill to swallow for some digital news and magazine media providers. When it became evident that a growing number of individuals were using digital media as their only platform, many publishers had to begin charging for the content they had previously distributed for free.

Subscription ecommerce market map


It is crucial to note that advertising is not a wholly reliable source of revenue for the longer term, particularly in light of the demise of third-party cookies and sophisticated consumer tracking. Publishers with loyal and devoted fans should continue to embrace the new subscription era as part of their digital strategies and a major contender in the future of publishing. Tech giants not only dominated the advertising world but have now started to lead the way in subscriptions. Publishers, take heed.


About Evolok

Evolok helps online publishers increase their revenues and drive audience engagement using Evolok’s end-to-end SaaS solution, which provides paywalls, subscription management, user segmentation and identity management.  Evolok delivers a selective ecosystem to drive user engagement and mobilization. Evolok helps its clients increase readership and revenue by engaging and personalizing content, protecting valuable content through paywalls, utilizing login and social data to incrementally know customers and finally targeting products and pricing to boost subscriptions.

If you need any help with your subscription journey or you are thinking of migrating your publishing business to the subscription business model contact us today. 

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