In September, Snapchat introduced Lenses, a way to augment your selfies with silly photos and animations: a monocle and mustache, say, or a violent bolt of lightning coming out of your mouth. There are seven to choose from, and each day a new one takes the place of the oldest. The most popular lens to date, it seemed to me from browsing, was the lens that made you look as if you were vomiting a rainbow: nearly all of my Snapchat friends posted themselves puking a rainbow to their public story. Lenses came out the same day that Snapchat begin selling extra "replays" of your friends' messages — you get one freebie a day — and it turns out the company has a business plan for lenses, too. Today Snapchat is launching a "lens store" that will let you purchase lenses for $0.99 and keep them forever.
The lens store appears just past the free lenses inside Snapchat, which you access by long-pressing on your face when in selfie mode. (Commerce in 2015 is kind of weird!) After you buy a lens, it shows up in between the free and paid ones. Snapchat says 30 paid lenses will be available each day, with some old favorites among them. (Rainbow puke made the cut.) The company will continue to offer around seven free lenses a day. But you can now try the paid lenses in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and "a handful of other European countries," Snapchat says, with more on their way.
Lenses have proven popular in their first couple months: they're used in 10 million snaps a day, the company says. That compares with more than 1 million snaps that use the geofilters which denote what city or neighborhood you're currently in. (Snapchat has about 100 million daily users.) I've been impressed with the lenses as an engagement hack — I find myself coming back to the app day after the day just to see what bizarre lens Snapchat has cooked up. So do lots of the people I follow on Snapchat. Often they use the lens just because it looks funny, but many days it almost feels like a writing prompt: people compete to offer the best caption, or to use it in the most unusual way.
Together with replays, lenses illustrate how Snapchat intends in-app purchases to become a second pillar of its business. The first is advertising, of course, and lenses have a role to play there, too — Snapchat allows brands to "sponsor" lenses, as Fox did to promote The Peanuts Movie. The company, which is valued at $16 billion, aims to bring in $50 million in revenue this year, according to our colleagues at Recode. But it's facing some skepticism: the mutual fund Fidelity, which invested in Snapchat's latest round, wrote down the value of its investment by 25 percent. (Fidelity didn't say why, and Snapchat hasn't commented.)
I quite like Snapchat's rather gentle approach to in-app purchases: offering all of its core features for free, but letting you pay for extras here and there. Paying a buck here or there for a fun filter strikes me as something I'm likely to do, and do happily — particularly when the obvious business alternative is highly targeted advertising.
Update, 2:10 PM.: After initially telling us that geofilters decorate 1 million snaps a day, Snapchat wrote us after this article was published to say that the number, which it released in July, is now "significantly higher." It would not say how much higher. This article has been updated to reflect that the number of daily geofiltered snaps is now "more than" 1 million.