With 20 million registered users, 3-year-old Path, a private social network for you and your 150 closest friends, is, at best, a modest hit with smartphone owners. Perhaps that's all it ever needs to be.
Thursday, the San Francisco-based company is releasing a new version of its social-networking application for iPhone and Android that comes with a viable, ad-free business model in tow. In the new app, version 3.2, Path is selling subscription plans to superfans willing to pay for unlimited access to digital stickers and photo filters.
Path premium, as the for-purchase account option is called, is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for the app user who can't get enough of the company's cutesy, character-driven sticker packs for comments and messaging. The premium service costs $15 per year, though members can opt to spend $2 for a 1-month subscription on Android or $5 for a 3-month subscription on iOS.
"Essentially, we're unlocking the shop," Path Product Manager Cynthia Samanian told CNET. The company, she said, is committed to releasing a new sticker pack each week, as well as developing new photo filters.
To outsiders, Path's premium offering surely sounds laughable. Stickers don't exactly have an exciting ring to them. But to the app's most passionate fans, stickers, which come in packs that otherwise cost $2 apiece, are all the rage. Path isn't disclosing how many sticker packs have been purchased to date, but Samanian insists that members have an insatiable appetite for the emotive emoji-like characters.
The premium release also represents the company's commitment to remaining ad free -- and still alive and kicking in the years to come. "We hear from our users that they want Path to be around for years," Samanian said, and so the app aficionado buys everything available in the shop. "They want to give us their money."
For everyone else, Path 3.2 comes with a collection of free additives meant to engineer an even more intimate experience. Inner Circle, for instance, is an overlay for sharing with an even smaller subset of friends, and a new feature called private sharing is akin to group messaging for sharing moments with a few select friends.
"Users have wanted to share more, but they've been waiting for us to give them controls to do that," Samanian explained.
With the options, which amount to friend filters, a person with 50 friends can now opt to share her most personal experiences with an inner circle of just 10 friends and family members, or choose to individually share a particularly scandalous photo with her best girlfriends.
The new Path app seemingly has a little something for everyone -- all-you-can-download stickers for the superfan and additional controls for the private types -- with a whole lot of somethin' somethin' (read:cash) for the company. Is it enough to turn a small, active community of people into a self-sustaining ecosystem? Perhaps, but Path isn't yet ready to settle for niche.
The startup has forged partnerships with Samsung and Deutsche Telekom to get its app in front of more people. With the Deutsche Telekom deal, also announced Thursday, Path will come preloaded on the HTC G3, LG G2, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and X Cover 2 devices sold in Germany.