Mozilla to launch premium service subscriptions in new bid to diversify revenue

The company’s CEO, Chris Beard, has already pointed to two examples of services Mozilla could provide: online storage and a VPN.

Mozilla services

Mozilla will introduce subscriptions to one or more as-yet-unknown services this fall, but will not charge people to use its Firefox browser, the company said.

"A high-performing, free and private-by-default Firefox browser will continue to be central to our core service offerings," David Camp, Mozilla's top executive for the browser, said in an email reply to questions Tuesday.

Camp's assertion that Firefox will remain free followed reports that the company will introduce paid subscriptions to the browser's users, likely starting in October. In a June 7 interview with t3n, a German business magazine, CEO Chris Beard acknowledged the firm sees subscriptions as an important source of revenue.

"We are working on three sources of income and we want to rebalance them," Beard said, ticking off search - which provides the bulk of Mozilla's revenue - and content, citing Pocket and sponsored content as examples of the latter. "The third one we are working on and developing as we think about products and services, are premium levels for some of these offerings."

He offered up two examples of services Mozilla could provide: online storage and a VPN (virtual private network). "You can imagine we'll offer a solution that gives us all a certain amount of free VPN bandwidth and then offer a premium level (via) a monthly subscription," Beard said.

Beard didn't just pull VPN out of his example hat: last October, Mozilla offered a small number of American customers a $10 per month subscription to ProtonVPN, a Swiss VPN provider. Although Mozilla touted the VPN's added security and privacy, the firm wasn't shy about the financial angle.

"We need to have diverse sources of revenue," asserted Chris More, product lead of what Mozilla called "Firefox Growth."

Mozilla has mined alternate revenue veins before, but with little luck. Whether they were attempts to create an in-browser advertising infrastructure or an entire smartphone ecosystem, with the latter ranging from handsets to an OS, all were eventually abandoned. That's reflected in Mozilla's financials. During 2017, the latest year for which Mozilla has published numbers, the organization continued to rely on search - struck with the likes of Google to make a search engine the default in Firefox - for nearly all its revenue.

That year, nearly 90% of Mozilla's total revenue came from search.

The company has recently dabbled with other service-related projects that could conceivably be sold through subscriptions or added to a longer list for a more ambitious plan. In March, for example, Mozilla introduced a free file-sharing service, labeled "Send," that encrypts data from one end of the transmission to the other. It has also launched Lockwise, née Lockbox, a password manager that leverages the Firefox Account sync service, and Monitor, a data breach notifier that warns users when their email address and credentials may have been acquired by hackers.

All of these add-on services have been free to Firefox users.

It's unclear how Mozilla would package such services. In separate subscriptions? Several - or even all - in a single subscription that, when added to Firefox creates something akin to Firefox Premium or Firefox Pro?

"We recognize that there are consumers who want access to premium offerings, and we can serve those users, too, without compromising the development and reach of the existing products and services that Firefox users know and love," said Mozilla's Camp, using "premium offerings," as in plural, perhaps hinting at the approach.

Mozilla also trumpeted some of the already-in-place services as separate entities when it unveiled new branding on Tuesday. Send, Monitor and Lockwise each received an individual logo that graphically ties it to that for Firefox itself.

More telling was the commentary by Tim Murray, Mozilla's creative director, in the post he wrote to announce the branding and logo changes.

"The 'Firefox' you've always known as a browser is stretching to cover a family of products and services," Murray said. "Firefox is a browser AND an encrypted service to send huge files. It's an easy way to protect your passwords on every device AND an early warning if your email has been part of a data breach. That's just the beginning of the new Firefox family."

Murray and others hammered home the point that the new logos - including one labeled "Firefox" that was separate from another marked "Firefox Browser" - were needed because of this march toward services. "That fox ((imagery)) could not stretch to cover all the different products and services that we're going to be bringing out to the world," contended Murray.

"Firefox is more than a browser," added Mary Ellen Muckerman, vice president brand strategy & marketing, in the same video. "It's actually a whole family of products and services. All focused on privacy. All connected together."

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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