Ask a smartphone user on the street if they use any instant messaging apps and you’ll get a variety of different answers, but the top two will most often be WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Of course, the irony is that Facebook owns WhatsApp now, and is often the first app people think to use when looking for an instant messaging solution. Traditionally, the green app has been free for the first year of use, and then a small fee of around $1 depending on where you are in the world. Now though, they’re ditching the annual fee, and making WhatsApp free forever. Operating such servers and paying developers costs money, and how WhatsApp is to generate revenue is not how you think.
In a blog post, the firm is outlining why they’re making this change. They said that a lot of users simply didn’t have a “have a debit or credit card number” and that this longstanding method “hasn’t worked well”. For WhatsApp users, the annual fee has always been an interesting little quirk, why give away a year’s worth of free access if you’re charging so little for it in the first place? Users can jump onboard as simple as providing their already-existing phone number, and find friends using the same method, so perhaps WhatsApp had been seeing some active users simply drop off after a year’s worth of service, who knows.
The blog post goes on to detail just how WhatsApp intends to make any money, after all operating such a service isn’t free, and people need to take a pay check home at the end of the month. Instead of turning to third-party ads, it seems WhatsApp is branching out into the customer service business, “Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from.” This could be in much the same why that companies and brands use Twitter to communicate with their customers and followers. While details are scant, it wouldn’t surprise us if WhatsApp was planning to charge these companies a certain amount of money for communicating with the billion of users already on WhatsApp. The idea would be a simple one, WhatsApp maintains a channel and account for these companies, and they get access to their customers in a more modern, relaxed setting, streamlining customer service and perhaps helping them sell more products through better engagement.
Whatever WhatsApp’s plans are, we’re sure cash from Facebook has made the decisions to drop the fee that much easier, but for right now users everywhere will be happy to hear they no longer have to pay for WhatsApp.