Image Credits: Post app icon, screenshot by TechCrunch
Post, a Twitter alternative of sorts that’s rethinking how publishers should engage with social media — and how they should monetize their readership — has opened its doors to the public. The startup, like others in this space, gained ground in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter as many began to look for a new place to read and discuss the news or share their own thoughts with their followers. But Post doesn’t want to be just another Twitter clone. Instead, its aim is to develop a platform where publishers can generate revenue from micropayments — that is, where users pay some small amount of money to read individual news items.
This could include articles from traditional media outlets that would otherwise have been behind some kind of subscription-based paywall, but it could also include other types of media, like subscription newsletters, or even free and ad-supported content that’s offered elsewhere. The latter has been the source of some criticism for Post, along the lines of “who would pay for news that you could get for free elsewhere?”
But that response conveniently forgets the miserable experience that is reading free news on today’s web.
Ads and in-house promos are everywhere — even in the middle of articles as you scroll down. Videos autoplay, often in their own pop-up windows. Cookie consent banners appear, trying to trick you into agreeing to hand over more data. Prompts to buy a subscription or sign up for the publishers’ newsletter pop up over the top of the screen, forcing you to dismiss them.
Explains Post’s founder and CEO Noam Bardin, previously CEO of Waze at Google, Post’s partnered publishers have already found that users want to read news in their feed, rather than jumping out to external websites — even if it’s more expensive to do so.
“You go to many news sites today and you get bombarded by these ads, email capture forms and subscriptions…you just wanted to read one article. And you wanted to read it because someone shared it. So, a one-time transaction, but you’re bombarded,” he says. “We think that with a great user experience, the right pricing and the lack of friction, we can add a new business model to the world of ads [or] subscription.”
Bardin tells TechCrunch that, when speaking with publishers, they generally agreed with the startup’s thesis — that the current subscription structure, outside of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal — is not good for publishers. They acknowledged that the website traffic from social media shares doesn’t often convert visitors to subscribers and that subscribers account for only a fraction of their larger readership.
“Everyone agrees there’s a problem. No one wants to be first,” he says, speaking of Post’s initial struggles with publisher adoption.
The Post website itself first launched in November 2022 into a closed beta that grew to 650,000 people on its waitlist. Of those, 430,000 people actually created an account. That’s when publishers took notice.
As Post now enters its public beta period, Twitter is bent on angering publishers by stripping their Verified badges if they don’t pay. Post instead is offering to pay publishers. That has some draw. The company today has 25 premium publishers on board and several hundred in various stages. Some, like local news publishers, are waiting on additional functionality to be added to the platform.
At launch, Post has signed up partners including The Boston Globe, The Brookings Institution, Fortune, The Independent, Insider, LA Times, NBC News, Politico, ProPublica, Reuters, Semafor, SF Chronicle, MIT Technology Review, USA Today, Wired, World Politics Review and Yahoo Finance.
Some of these outlets are posting manually, while others are experimenting with micropayments, and some are doing both. Those who have tried the micropayments option include Fortune, The Independent, LA Times, Reuters, MIT Technology Review, USA Today and Wired.
Bardin claims the average CPMs publishers are getting from Post’s platform is $25 for a paid post. The highest article got a $300 CPM. But, he adds, publishers are also making an average of $1.30 CPMs from their free posts by way of donations and tips.
The micropayments platform Post users, which is powered by Stripe, allows users to buy a bundle of points in packets of 300 ($4.20) up to 10,000 ($126.70). As you get into the higher tiers — 1,500, 5,000 or 10,000 points, you’ll get a discount on your purchase. Post generates revenue by taking a small percentage of these sales, similar to Twitch.
Bardin isn’t sharing Post’s current active user base figures but says that when people run out of their 50 free points gifted at sign-up, 80% have entered their credit card information to buy more. That’s a promising number, but it’s still early days for this startup. Twitter, after all, never gained mass market appeal and Twitter alternatives have an even tougher hill to climb as they try to attract a mainstream user base.
What a publisher chooses to charge for their articles is up to them — we’ve seen as low as 1 point (see image on right), and as high as 89 points when scrolling our feed. Over time, Post plans to add other payment options, like “pay what you want” (which could also include paying nothing, if you choose), a “buy one, share one” option and an option where the first few articles per month are free.
The site, similar to pre-Elon Twitter, also has a number of rules around user behavior. It will kick people out for breaking them but doesn’t yet know how it will draw the line between temporary and permanent bans. Its “freedom of speech” approach — a matter of much consternation in the Elon era — is fairly simple.
“When it comes to people, you do not have a right to be an asshole. That’s not a God-given right in the Constitution. So, if you want to, go somewhere else. We don’t need you. You don’t have to be an asshole here.”
In addition, Post aims to leverage AI technologies to personalize the news feed to its end users — an idea also now being tried by Artifact, the news app from Instagram’s co-founders. Post also expects that, as a news feed experience, many of its users won’t be active content creators themselves. In fact, there’s an old internet adage that says most people on a service consume content, but don’t engage or create. Yet that large majority is often forgotten when services are being built.
“They don’t publish. You don’t hear them,” says Bardin. But, he adds, “they, in many ways, are the audience.”
“Seventy-five percent of Twitter users have never tweeted,” he continues. “People use it to consume information, but it’s built for the people creating the information…there are a lot of things that I think we would all have done differently with Twitter if we started out today.”
Post’s service as it stands today reflects that philosophy. It’s more of a place to scroll and read the news but lacks the active conversations about the news that happens on larger platforms like Twitter, or even newer alternatives like T2 or Mastodon. But that engagement may come in time, as Post intends to eventually adopt ActivityPub — the protocol that powers the open source, decentralized Mastodon and the broader Fediverse. As an interconnected app, Post could gain more active usage.
“We started out building on Mastodon…We love what Mastodon is doing,” Bardin tells us. “And Bluesky is another approach, but the same concept,” he says. “We will be adding integration with Mastodon and others.”
That’s still much further down the road — it’s not in the works for 2023, we understand.
“We just started the company in May. We’ve been around less than a year. We’ve got a lot of stuff we want to do — we don’t want to limit ourselves to supporting other protocols at this stage. Once we’ve built the core and we like it, then we can see exactly how these protocols can or cannot plug in,” Bardin says.
Post quietly dropped its invite requirement a couple of weeks ago, but hadn’t yet formally announced its public beta launch.
While the startup isn’t talking about active usage, the site saw its traffic peak with over 5.19 million monthly visits in December 2022, according to data from Similarweb. That’s since fallen to 921,000+ visits in March 2023 (as of March 27th). The firm estimates Post had around 946,120 total daily users in the last 28 days. Not bad for the crowded alt-Twitter market these days, where Mastodon now has 1.2 million monthly actives, for comparison.
Based in New York with a distributed team of 20, including co-founder Noel Baron, Post raised a seed round from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), as well as Scott Galloway, an NYU professor and tech commentator. Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher also said she advises the startup. The company isn’t currently raising but is hiring.