Credit Tobias Hase/DPA, via Agence France-Presse â Getty Images
MUNICH â WhatsApp, the popular Internet messaging service, will soon be free.
That was the message from Jan Koum, the service’s founder, who announced on Monday that WhatsApp would stop charging people 99 cents annually for the service (individuals could use it for free for the first year).
As part of the overhaul, the Internet message service â which now boasts almost a billion users worldwide and was bought by Facebook in 2014 for $ 19 billion â said that it would start experimenting with new ways to make money, including potentially charging companies like banks and airlines that wanted to contact WhatsApp users directly.
Mr. Koum said that his team was still experimenting with how such services could work, and that many companies were already using the messaging service, particularly in developing countries, to connect with mobile-savvy customers.
âWe all get these messages elsewhere today â through text messages and phone calls,â the company said in a blog post on Monday, in reference to how companies talk directly with consumers. âSo we want to test new tools to make this easier to do on WhatsApp.â
By potentially charging companies to contact WhatsApp users, Mr. Koumâs new plan will see him go head-to-head with Facebook Messenger, the social networkâs separate Internet messaging service, which also allows individuals to talk with companies. Facebook also has a deal with Uber, the ride-booking service, to allow users to hail a taxi directly from its messaging application.
WhatsAppâs founder did not say on Monday when the companyâs new business model would begin, though individuals’ current subscriptions will be phased out over the coming weeks.
Despite WhatsApp’s pledge to offer the service free, analysts had questioned how much money the Internet messaging service had made from charging people less than a dollar a year to send messaging to friends and family around the world.
Still, the company said on Monday that as more people had joined the service, it had proved too unwieldy to find ways for people to pay even the modest annual charge.
âAs we’ve grown, we’ve found that this approach hasn’t worked well,â the company said. âMany 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.â