Instagram Subscriptions Are the Most Obvious Idea Ever

It’s going to be H-U-G-E

Key Takeaways

  • Instagram is testing in-app subscriptions for $1 and $5.
  • Instagram's mix of video/photos/commerce/social network is the perfect platform for paid subs.
  • Subscription overload and platform lock-in are the biggest downsides.
woman in green sweater taking a selfie

Good Faces / Unsplash

Patreon-style subscriptions have been the big social media trend of 2021. Twitter, OnlyFans, and even Tumblr are hot on subs that let readers pay money to support creators—with the platform taking its cut, naturally. 

But Instagram, more than any other social network, is a perfect fit for paid following, thanks to its unique combination of video, photos, commerce, and being the professional creative's version of LinkedIn. 

"Though Patreon offers broader coverage of social platforms, Instagram offers unmatched visibility," e-commerce brand owner Stephen Light told Lifewire via email. 

"The new subscription feature is rumored to include perks like a 'special member badge' when you become a Fan Subscriber. That type of visible exclusivity is very attractive to people, and considering how massive Instagram is as a platform, it could hold more social value than a Patreon subscription."

SubNormal

In May 2021, head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, told The Information that it was "exploring" subscriptions. According to two mobile app-tracking services, Instagram is now testing in-app purchases for "Instagram Subscriptions" for $4.99 and $0.99, indicating that those subscriptions may be coming soon.

"Though Patreon offers broader coverage of social platforms, Instagram offers unmatched visibility."

What might users get for their money? Exclusive access to videos and photos seems obvious, as well as Instagram stories that combine the two, or Instagram Live or long-form Instagram Videos (formerly IGTV).

Instagram’s wealth of formats might be confusing in day-to-day use, but for splitting up and paywalling media, it could be ideal. Get the snippet free, view the hour-long version with a sub, etc. There are many, many ways users can package their creations for monetization. 

So, What’s in It for Subscribers?

Instagram is a unique platform. While some of us only follow our friends and family, people in creative industries use it as a platform for work. They prefer to share their "Insta" handle over their website's URL. They contact each other via Instagram messages, post work-in-progress clips, and a finished project doesn't exist until it's shared in a story.

There exist multiple ways to exploit this via subscriptions. Influencers, for example, could paywall exclusive content that's beneficial to PR agencies; fashion brands, which already launch collections on the platform, could offer exclusive or advanced access. 

"PR people would jump on that instantly," Germany-based fashion stylist Nuria Gregori told Lifewire in an interview. "The money wouldn't matter."

jewelry, perfume, and an iPad and iPhone with Instagram on them

Laura Chouette / Unsplash

In fact, influencers might be the biggest beneficiaries of Insta subs. They can chop up their "content" and dump it into all kinds of silos. News for the PR folks, exclusive in-depth videos for devoted followers, ad-free versions for anyone who wants to watch them shill without interruptions, and so on. 

Or what about businesses? Instagram is already a marketplace, with surprisingly high conversion rates for its ads. Early-bird offers could draw people into subscriptions. 

There are plenty of opportunities for regular creators, too. Instead of putting exclusive videos behind a Patreon paywall on YouTube, they could put reviews, guitar lessons, exclusive songs, or anything else onto Instagram. 

Private Party

While Instagram has a huge reach and is pretty much the platform for influencers, it's also a private, members-only silo. Whereas Patreon ties into existing platforms, and lets a person with a single subscription access all content across YouTube, podcasts, and so on, an Instagram sub would only be for Instagram. And that might be a tough sell. Patreon folks might alienate their most loyal supporters. 

"It certainly seems that every social media platform is adding some level of paid subscription to their sites. While the exclusivity is what's so tempting to some, it could also be what turns people off," says Light. "Content that's been entirely free since a platform's inception suddenly coming with a price tag could send audiences into 'subscription overload.'"

Instagram subscriptions do look like a sure thing, though. We'll just have to see how people end up using them.

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