Twitter’s acquisition spree continues today with Scroll, a $5-a-month subscription service that removes ads from participating news sites (including The Verge). Twitter is working on building out a new kind of subscription plan that will include Scroll, the recently acquired Revue newsletter service, and other homegrown Twitter services. In a blog post announcing the deal, Scroll CEO Tony Haile says that one reason he sold his company is because “Twitter’s ambitions are larger than people suspect.”
The Scroll service is an ingenious hack that uses third-party cookies or browser extensions to tell websites to not serve ads to you. It’s not quite an ad-blocker per se but instead sends a portion of your subscription fee to the participating websites you visit. Now that it’s being acquired by Twitter, it will no longer accept new signups — though nothing is expected to change in the short term for existing customers.
Twitter’s subscription ambition is big but vague
That’s not the case for another Scroll service, Nuzzel, which is going to be “winding down.” Nuzzel sends daily emails of the top stories shared by people in your Twitter feed and was therefore beloved by a tiny set of very online news consumers. Twitter says that it will “bring the core elements of Nuzzel directly to Twitter over time.” The service will shut down on May 6th.
It’s a little difficult to divine exactly what Twitter intends to do with Scroll. Twitter is absolutely building a subscription service that will put together a bunch of services, but what exactly will be included, what it will cost, and who will share in the revenue is only known to Twitter (assuming it has a long-term vision, which until recently was not a great bet).
In its announcement post, VP of product Mike Park hints at Twitter’s plans by suggesting that it will integrate Scroll directly into a more comprehensive subscription that will, in part, be sending slivers of money to Revue newsletter writers:
To do this, we plan to include Scroll as part of an upcoming subscription offering we’re currently exploring. As a Twitter subscriber, picture getting access to premium features where you can easily read articles from your favorite news outlet or a writer’s newsletter from Revue, with a portion of your subscription going to the publishers and writers creating the content.
Scroll claims that its users send more money to news sites via its subscriptions than its ad views would. Applying that sort of model to independent newsletter writers would be a whole new set of incentives for media wonks to worry over.
Another possibility is a service that’s competitive in some ways with Apple News. Instead of the web tech hack that stops ads at a browser level, it could be a feature inside the Twitter app itself — or even a future news reading app. You could read that out of Park’s claim that “We want to reimagine what [Scroll has] built to deliver a seamless reading experience to our hyper-engaged audiences.”
In other words, Twitter is looking to leverage its central place in the online lives of many journalists and news hounds. Haile writes that he hopes Scroll will make Twitter a “great gathering of people who love the news and pay to sustainably support it.”
I asked Twitter if it could be more specific and in an emailed statement a spokesperson wrote “No specifics to share as we’re still in the early stages, but hoping to share more on this type of offering later this year.”
The opportunities to mix and match individual subscriptions, bundles, and news reading experiences are vast. Vast is great, but specific will be better. Twitter’s going to have its work cut out for it putting together a coherent service and then explaining it to potential users.