Would you pay for email and search?

My answer to that question – I wouldn’t. At least not yet!

We are probably seeing very, very early signs of a movement away from advertiser-led business models to a subscribers-led business model.

This is already evident in the media industry. There are more subscriber-based online publications that do not have any advertising whatsoever in recent times. One of the pioneers is The Information, that launched in 2013 and became profitable in 3 years.

In India, there are digital publications like The Ken and The Morning Context, as examples. The Ken, which launched in October 2016, announced 18 months later that it turned profitable.

Even hybrid models, like The New York Times, that has both advertiser-led and subscription-led monetization models, announced in February 2020 that its subscription revenue has surpassed its advertising revenue!

The subscriber-led model is also evident in the streaming space. We have an entire range of OTT platforms all supported by subscribers (and a lot of debt, for content production and acquisition, of course).

The interesting thing about the subscription-led model is that they are not planning to be the most-seen or the most-read or the most-used brand, but be useful enough to be supported by enough users to turn a profit.

Even more interesting is that previously assumed to be only-advertising led businesses like email and search are looking at subscriber options!

After Yahoo and Hotmail, Gmail is now the default of all email services. And Gmail is free.

But now, Basecamp is launching a privacy-first, ad-free email service called Hey. Hey costs $99 per year!

Similarly, after Altavista, Yahoo and Bing, Google is now the default in search. There’s, of course, DuckDuckGo that is nibbling in a corner with a privacy-first search engine.

But now, a former Googler, one who used to head their digital advertising business no less, is launching a subscription-based, privacy-first, ad-free search engine called Neeva!

The service will charge less than $10 per month!

I know the reaction!

Paid email and paid search? In a world completely used to free email and search? Seriously?

Are there enough people to value privacy so much that they would continue to pay for search and email, month after month?

I don’t know, but what Hey and Neeva need is not billions of users, but a smaller sub-set to turn profitable! And continue profitably in the periphery of larger free services if they can prove to be as useful, if not more, than the free offerings.

These are really interesting times!

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