This month, Facebook started testing out a new revenue model/spam filter system for messaging famous people on Facebook. If you're not friends with the celebrity, it'll cost you $5 to $15, depending on just how popular that person is. You can still send a message for free, but it'll end up the twilight purgatory of the dreaded "Other" inbox.
There's more than one serious problem with charging more to message "celebrities" (since this is based on subscriber/friend count, these high-fee people also include fan pages and parody accounts, not just actual famous people).
For one thing, there's no way for these celebrities to control the price or opt out of charging their fans. Fans may not realize this and may think that the celebrity is purposely charging money — and that makes them look bad.
Worst of all, Facebook isn't giving the celebrities a cut of the profits made from their accounts.
I know, I know: Think of the celebrities! Deluged by their adoring fans sending them praise! Boo-hoo.
$5 to message Josh Groban
Here is the rough business model for being a celebrity:
1. Make money doing whatever it is you do.
2. Don't let people make money off you without getting a cut.
This is why Kim Kardashian will sue the shit out of you if you put her photo on your diet-pill ad. If you try to pull this shit with Kim, Robert Kardashian will rise from the grave, slip on the glove that didn't fit O.J., and use his zombie strength to rip out your throat.
This is essentially the same as if a record store held a record signing for Josh Groban, charged fans $5 each to get in the door, and never told Josh about the fee. Do you think The Grobster would stand for this? Of course not! And trust me, you do not want the wrath of Josh Groban coming down on you.
Last December, Facebook introduced a flat $1 fee to make sure a message to someone outside your friend graph didn't go in the "Other" box. I don't mind this system: $1 is a nominal fee if you really want to get in touch with someone (consider it the price of two postage stamps), but enough to keep actual spammers away. How often are we messaging people we're not friends with anyway? For those few times you need to, it seems like a fair price.
In a way, celebrities of the Kim Kardashian caliber are more likely to be spared from this fee structure, since they often have fan pages instead of a regular personal account. Fan pages do not charge messaging fees (Groban has both an official artist fan page as well as a personal account, which is hidden from search results).
$15 to message The New York Times' Jodi Kantor
It's not just the actors and honey-voiced opera singers who ooze talent and charisma like Josh Groban that are affected by this. There are business people and journalists who aren't exactly getting mobbed by the paparazzi when they walk down the street but have a lot of subscribers. Their Facebook presence is way for sources to send them tips or people to contact them with legitimate business offers. Facebook encourages journalists to enable the feature that allows non-friends to "subscribe" to their public updates, and now it is penalizing them for having too many subscribers.
Jodi Kantor, Washington correspondent for The New York Times, has almost 25,000 Facebook subscribers, which means strangers will have to pony up the dollars to message her. "I had no idea it cost $15 to message me," said Kantor over a (free) Facebook message.
However, for notable people like Kantor, Facebook is rarely the only way to easily contact them. "I can't say I'm worried about this, because my email address is public [on nytimes.com], so anyone who wants to reach me with a story tip or feedback can do so pretty easily." Users will just leave Facebook and find a free option to contact notable individuals.
The heart of the issue is that Facebook messaging can't discern between actual spam and real, wanted messages from people outside your graph. The "Other" inbox has always been problematic. On one hand, it's a godsend to not get notifications for every update to events or groups. On the other, we've all had moments of horror seeing a months-old message from someone we actually want to hear from that got stuck there.
Some people get more messages than others. And yet those same people have somehow managed to manage their email inbox and replies over Twitter just fine without a paywall keeping the riffraff at bay. Wringing out a few dollars by leveraging certain users' popularity is not going to fix the problem of message filtering.
And you know what's worst of all? I did pay $5 to message Josh Groban, and he never even replied.