For a long time, it seems like Patreon has held a monopolistic grip over paid content subscriptions. Those days look set to become a thing of the past, though with Instagram’s new subscription feature.
At the moment it looks like the number of people with access to the feature will be kept small and manageable as the Instagram team develops the finer points, but expect it to be worldwide pretty soon.
So, what do they do?
The platform’s new subscription feature will allow creators to charge money for exclusive Instagram Stories and Live broadcasts.
Followers can sign up if they want to pay a monthly fee to access these Stories and broadcasts. At the moment, it looks like there won’t be any exclusive posts as part of the subscription feature but that certainly seems like something they could introduce further down the line.
People who subscribe will also get a special badge next to their comments on the creator’s posts. Subscribers will also stand out in a creator’s direct messages because of the badge and a feature to filter inboxes to only see messages from subscribers.
The price model
Creators can choose the monthly recurring rate subscribers will need to pay from eight price points between $0.99 and $99.99. So there‘s some serious income potential here!
Many smaller creators have a rather precarious livelihood which is at the mercy of the algorithm and the hit-and-miss nature of not knowing which posts will gain popularity.
The subscription feature counters that by giving a more stable source of income that should grow steadily rather than fluctuate wildly.
Instagram has been pushing to make monetization on the platform easier for years. Built-in affiliate tools have made life easier for many influences and the relatively new creator marketplace has similar benefits.
Likely, the production value behind much of the content on Instagram will only go up and up as the platform makes monetization easier. Simultaneously however we may see a decline in the organic, homegrown content that shaped the internet in the 2000s and early 2010s.
Instagram says that they will not take a cut of people’s subscription fees for now. If they do so, it won’t be until 2013 they said. The benefits for the platform are numerous, besides being a direct revenue stream.
It further draws people into the platform’s ecosystem, keeping them scrolling and therefore maintaining the advertisement revenue stream. It also encourages people and companies to invest money in what they post on Instagram, potentially pushing it close to the entertainment value traditionally associated with film and TV.
How far can this model go?
For most people, making a living off posting to Instagram still seems like a bit of a pipe dream. Every time a feature like Subscriptions is introduced, it becomes feasible for more people to earn a real income on the platform.
Even the support of a few close friends and $5 a month may give people a couple of extra hours into making something fun or educational for people to watch. This could be the story of many people’s first stepping stone on the path to earning enough to make a substantial portion of their income.
There are indicators that this is the direction social media is generally headed in. Patreon has been a catch-all where many creators put extras and leftovers, but integrations with YouTube, recently TikTok and now Instagram are likely to become the mainstream. TikTok Subscriptions are in a small new experimental phase like Instagram’s.
How will it be monitored?
It doesn’t seem at the moment like creators will be under any obligation to provide exclusive content once subscribers sign up. Many young, impressionable people are scrolling through Instagram, and the company is likely to receive backlash if it seems they’re being tricked into paying for something unfair.
At the moment, there isn’t really a means for potential subscribers to get a reading on what the current subscriber’s thoughts are on a creator. The development of some sort of review system so people are encouraged to deliver for their subscribers and match their price tag seems likely further down the line.
The closest thing we have to a potential means of previews at the moment are comments and captions, and these may be updated to accommodate the Subscription economy.
Instagram will also have to watch people’s actions to gain attention and subscribers closely. The internet has often rewarded people for being eye-catch regardless of what boundaries are broken to get people talking. A balance will need to be found between ensuring people aren’t encouraged into doing unsafe or grossly offensive things for money and letting creators deliver on what their subscribers want.
These questions and more are a big part of why the feature is only available to a small number of US creators at the moment.
If successful, it will probably be brought to the rest of the US first, then Western Europe, and then globally from there. Different regions may require slightly different approaches for moderating things’ financial and content side.
How can you make the most of it?
If you’re a creator, or ever thought it’s something you’d like to invest time into, now may be your time. You’ll still have to go through the initial teething process of growing a following, but it may now seem like a far more achievable goal.
You may have a while yet until you have access to the capability, but you can get ready in the meantime. Get comfortable in front of a camera and get used to interacting with people over live streams.
The bigger and more enthusiastic your following is, the more you can hit the ground running when you can offer people subscriptions. Subscriptions are a powerful way to get sustainable income as a creator. And, if you’re entrepreneurial, the next step may be to launch an online store to sell your products, similar to the likes of Kylie Jenner and Paris Hilton, and offer product subscription packages for your loyal fans to buy what you have to offer regularly.
In the meantime, if you’re already serious about earning from content creation, then Twitch and YouTube have potential once you break through the glass ceiling and don’t forget that Instagram already has some universally accessible tools for monetization.
The future appears to be approaching rapidly and dreams are fast becoming possibilities.