WhatsApp drops US$1 annual subscription fee

WhatsApp is dropping its US$0.99 (S$1.42) a year subscription fee.
WhatsApp is dropping its US$0.99 (S$1.42) a year subscription fee. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Popular mobile messaging service WhatsApp has announced that it will drop its US$0.99 (S$1.42) annual subscription fee, and be made available for free from now on.

The Facebook-owned service, which has a user base of 900 million users worldwide, is a messaging service for mobile devices, and can also be used to make voice calls over a phone's Internet connection. It recently allowed users to access the mobile service on the Google Chrome web browser.

WhatsApp chief executive Jan Koum announced this at the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in Bavaria. Previously, the company had offered some users a lifetime subscription for US$1, while the majority of users were offered the service free for the first year. 

Some users had their free-use period extended several times in the last few years and have never had to pay for the service. In a blog post, the company conceded that its subscription-based business model had not been entirely successful.

"For many years, we've asked some people to pay a fee for using WhatsApp after their first year. As we've grown, we've found that this approach hasn't worked well," noted WhatsApp in a blog post.

"Many WhatsApp users don't have a debit or credit card number and they worried they'd lose access to their friends and family after their first year. So over the next several weeks, we'll remove fees from the different versions of our app and WhatsApp will no longer charge you for our service."

In an assurance to users, the company also promised that it will not start rolling out third-party advertisements to make up for the loss in subscription fees.

Instead, it will look into partnering with companies, to open communication channels with its user base.

"Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organisations that you want to hear from. That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight. We all get these messages elsewhere today – through text messages and phone calls – so we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp, while still giving you an experience without third-party ads and spam."