This was bound to happen: Someone has invented a paid access scheme for Twitter. TwitPub is a marketplace where Twitterers can sell access to their updates, by registering their protected accounts with the service. Other Twitter users sign up and pay for access to these accounts on the TwitPub marketplace. TwitPub takes 20 percent of the subscription revenue for itself and gives 80 percent to its publishers.
TwitPub works by gating access to protected Twitter accounts. Once a user pays for access to a Twitter stream, the system sends the author of it an e-mail advising him or her to allow that user to see the updates. (In the future the e-mail loop should be removed.)
Authors set their own subscription prices, but the floor is $0.99 a month, which is too high. Another snag: Although author payments are sent to PayPal accounts (handy), subscribers must pay by credit card via WorldPay, a payment processing system relatively unknown in the United States. I wanted to test TwitPub, but I wouldn't even pay for my own updates since I had to hand over my credit card to this processor that I'd never heard of.
But the real question is: Is this for real? Can it possibly work? The logic of the founders is not without merit. I am sure there are some people who would be willing to pay a few pennies to subscribe to regular entertainment (horoscope, gossip) updates or, more likely, financial information like stock tips. The founders believe that since the people pay for access to Premium SMS channels in various countries, it indicates that they'll also pay for Twitter updates.
Not me, though. On Twitter as elsewhere on the Internet, there is so much great content available for nothing. And for the truly critical information that I would pay for, the medium is not important. If I'm signing up for some kind of major financial or business alert, I want it to find me wherever I am -- e-mail, IM, phone, Twitter, everywhere. TwitPub doesn't reach that far. In other words, for frothy, fun content it's too expensive, and for important information it's not rich enough.
Moreover, the real money in content is not in getting a few people to pay for the odd update or subscription, but rather using mass distribution to drive consumers to services that are easier to make more money from. A lot of online music may become free but will be used to promote paid concerts; You can read blogs for free but are pitched to pay to attend bloggers' concerts or buy their books; And I'm on Twitter for free but I want you read my stuff on CNET, which is paid for through advertising. Direct payment for content can work, but on the Web, it's a fringe business.
If you do want to try TwitPub, feel free to sign up for my new Rafe's Tech Affirmations account (sole entry so far: "You look better than your Twitter avatar"). If I get more than a few people signed up for it, I'll begin to update it regularly.