The decision is a reversal of the annual subscription model that WhatsApp previously employed. Under that model, the first year of service was free, but each additional year cost 99 cents. The company is now eliminating that fee, in part because it learned that some of its more than one billion users don’t have access to a debit or credit card.
The company explained on its blog that it wouldn’t make up for the lost revenue with third-party ads; instead, it will test new experiences on the platform to generate extra revenue.
Those new experiences will include tools to let users communicate directly with businesses. This “could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight,” the company said.
What it won’t mean is blatant advertisements or spam.
Messenger already allows users to complete cash transactions, and it recently added a feature to hail a ride from Uberwithin the chat platform. That appears to be the direction that WhatsApp will take, which makes sense, given that Facebook owns it.
WhatsApp will stop collecting subscription fees immediately, but it will take several weeks for the payment system to disappear from every version of the app. Users who already paid a dollar for the year won’t get a refund.
Photo via Microsiervos/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)