We use WhatsApp every day. WhatsApp has become the most used messaging application in the world over Facebook Messenger and WeChat. Reaching that leadership was easy for them because it was the first great messaging application available for mobile phones, and from there they did not stop gaining users until they had billions of users around the world who use it every day to send text messages, photographs , videos. But, Why is WhatsApp free?
We don’t know how to live without using WhatsApp so it would make sense for the application to be paid, right? Would we pay a couple of euros a year to use it and continue our life as before or would we look for a free alternative like Telegram? Would we make the payment of WhatsApp something natural as millions of people do every month with Netflix? And, above all, how does the app survive if we don’t pay anything for it and billions of users use it? Has it always been free? We answer some of the main questions we ask ourselves about it.
WhatsApp for 89 cents a year
In its beginnings, WhatsApp was free during the first year, having to pay 89 cents for a subscription year (0.99 cents), $ 2.67 for three years, or $ 3.71 for 5 years. However, almost no one paid for them, since the free period was renewed a few weeks or days before the date was reached, and it lasted for one or even more years.
However, there was a time around 2014 and 2015 than WhatsApp she did get serious about collecting the money, where the app probably didn’t have enough of the innocent few who decided to pay for it before the free renewal. Therefore, during that time they were deactivating accounts until you paid, despite the fact that in the past they waited until the last days for you to pay, and when they saw that you did not, they renewed you.
Everything changed for WhatsApp in January 2016, when the application decided to eliminate the payment of 0.89 cents per year, that as little as it was, there were many people who I had no intention of paying it or even the means to do so, since there are young people who do not have PayPal or a credit or debit card.
Arrival of Telegram and back to free
However, the reason for eliminating this charge was another that they did not say and that was much clearer: the arrival of Telegram.
New competition: Telegram arrives
The Pavel Durov app It began to gain popularity like wildfire in early 2014 due to the large number of improvements it offered with respect to WhatsApp, such as encryption in WhatsApp messages or the possibility of using it on the PC independently on the mobile. And best of all: it was totally free.
If a similar application arrives (or even better because there are many functions it incorporates and many security improvements compared to WhatsApp) for free, the reign of the green messaging app was in danger. That is why they were raised what should they do so that the migration was not massive.
Buying from Facebook and back to free
What’s more, Facebook had already bought WhatsApp in 2014 for 19,000 million dollars, so WhatsApp already had more than enough financial support that allowed Facebook to incur even losses at the beginning in the app in exchange for dominating the most important messaging application in the world.
Faced with the possibility that WhatsApp began to lose the hegemony that it had until then, the company decided to make it free. He announced it in a WhatsApp blog post in January 2016:
“Now that our company has grown, we have found that the subscription model does not work well. Many of our users do not have a debit or credit card, and they worried that they would lose contact with their friends and family after the first free year. In the coming weeks we will be eliminating the charges in the different versions of our application, and WhatsApp will not charge you for our service again “they added.
Monetize WhatsApp: Present and future
There are several ways to monetize WhatsApp without charging users. The main one, as announced through this 2016 publication, is the use of WhatsApp Business. But it is not the only option if the app wants to go further. As we can see, the fact that it is the most used application in the world does not mean that it is easy to earn money. But there are options.
Years have passed, and the only monetization route remains the same: WhatsApp Business. At the moment it is the only option although in the future (as we will see in the next few paragraphs) there are many other options available. Business is the application by which companies have to pay WhatsApp in exchange for being able to communicate with customers and offer them a more direct technical service with all kinds of functions such as answering machine, attention lists, automatic replies. A system in which everyone wins: WhatsApp, companies and users.
They announced it like this in the aforementioned 2016 post: “Naturally, they will wonder how we will continue to function without a subscription model, and if our announcement means that there will now be third-party advertising. The answer is no. Starting this year, we will carry out tests with tools that will allow you to communicate with businesses and organizations of your choice ”. An idea that already takes shape and works effectively for companies and businesses: WhatsApp Business.
The company denied in that same entry that they were going to include ads to make up for the absence of subscriptions, although in May 2019 they declined and announced that they were going to include ads in the States of a similar way to what Instagram does currently in the photography app stories …
In the aforementioned post we could read that they said no to the ads, as you can see in the previous paragraph. Although we will see for how long and when they will begin to be a normal part of the use of WhatsApp or if they remain in their idea.
WhatsApp also has other avenues of monetization that it could exploit, such as launching the WhatsApp Pay system in more countries where it can charge a commission on each transaction. Similar to the use of Bizum in Spain but with the possibility of sending money in the same way that we send photos, videos or messages.
Packs of paid stickers
Another possible form of monetization would be the introduction of paid sticker packs like Line has. Although there would be those who would hack them, surely many users would pay to have them directly in the app without having to download third-party applications or risk that the packs are not reliable. GIFS, sticker packs and animated emojis that allow us to multiply the options to communicate and that allow WhatsApp to earn money.
In short, and for answering the question that the article titles, WhatsApp is free because it needs to be free for its own existence currently. If they had the monopoly similar to the one they had between 2009 and 2014, it is likely that they could bet on a payment model. Luckily, today we have alternatives with the same options and that have managed to stop being a minority for users. It’s easy to use identical messaging apps with even more features. We can use Telegram, the Facebook Messenger options o Many young users even use Instagram Direct as their chat nowadays. In addition to specialized apps like Signal and many others available for free.
That is why they have been constantly introducing new features since the app is free, such as encryption, stickers, GIFs, dark theme, web mode, calls, etc. Practically all copied from their competitors, whom we have to “thank” for coming to improve WhatsApp.
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