Programming Note: This is the last This Week in Elon this year. In 2023, I’ll be back with something delightful for you guys that isn’t just about Musk shenanigans – but we’ll have a chat now and then if there’s too much Elonning going on.
In general, I don’t think about rich people to believe all but: (1) they are essentially good; (2) they make their money and no one is allowed to take it; and (3) anything that threatens ideas (1) and (2) is bad. Everything else is quite flexible.
At this point, I think if Texas Governor Greg Abbott called Musk and told him to jump, Musk would say, “How high?”
I’m giving you my past data here because I’m about to discuss Elon Musk and politics. I’ve seen some suggestions based on his recent Twitter interactions that Musk has been given a red pill, or whatever. I’m somewhat skeptical about that because – as I noted above – I don’t really think he has political beliefs, just personal interests.
Those personal interests are disproportionate in Texas, as are his political donations, and right now I think if Texas Governor Greg Abbott called Musk and told him to jump, Musk would say, “How high?” After all, between the state and local tax breaks on Giga Texas, Musk’s new Tesla factory, Musk saved about $64 million. SpaceX got $15 million from Texas in 2014 as well as laws modified to benefit the company.
This isn’t to say anything about Texas’ weird laws about content moderation or the threats SpaceX has received road closures and shrapnel on the beaches near the Boca Chica branch.
So the future of Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX is based on keeping Texas government officials happy, it seems. That explains to me why Musk is busy kissing the Republicans – if we wake up tomorrow and the Democrats are running Texas, the tenor of his tweets would Abruptly Modify.
Many advertisers do not like to appear alongside political content
There are still a few things at play. One is that Musk’s Republican allies have suddenly taken an interest in Apple’s App Store after Musk whined about it on Twitter. Another is that restoring banned far-right accounts on Twitter irritates the people Musk considers his enemies: that is, left-wing journalists. Plus, doing outrageous shit spins the engagement flywheel, as right-wingers have known since the heyday of talk radio.
In other words, what Musk is doing makes good business sense, except for one very important aspect: it probably scares advertisers even more.
A truth like a cow of ad-supported platforms, journalism or otherwise, is that many advertisers do not like to appear alongside political content. After all, they want the maximum number of people to buy their products – participating in the culture wars in anything but the most volatile way could mean a drop in sales. Brand safety über alles, etc. And ads accounted for 89 percent of revenue last year, making Musk’s political turn a potential existential threat. Weekly bookings in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have dropped by almost halfaccording to Platform gameand Musk calls CEOs to berate them for not posting ads on Twitteraccording to the Financial times. Even Musk’s stupid slapfight with Apple started with Musk throws a tantrum over advertising. Apple was once one of Twitter’s top advertisers Bloomberg.
Twitter had $5 billion in revenue last year. I’m going to do some oversimplified math now – bear with me, I’m a simple internet typist. To replace the $4.5 billion that came from advertising, Musk needs to sell 563 million subscriptions in a year. Let’s assume every person who buys a blue tick pays again every month: that’s still over 47 million accounts that have to pay $8/month. Twitter has about 238 million daily active users. It’s not impossible to get 47 million of it paid, but that still seems like a pretty tough sales pitch to me, especially to the leftists that Musk is currently annoying.
I do not think so impossible to pull the company out of the current downturn, but Musk seems to be making it harder every time he tweets
Did you notice what I didn’t include? What I just explained here is the best case scenario, in which no one subscribes through the Google or Apple app stores. Those stores, as you may recall, take 30 percent of sales. I don’t know what proportion of users will subscribe through those channels, but 47 million accounts buying blue checks for 12 months is the absolute floor for completely replacing advertisers – and it’s probably unrealistic. The actual number of subscribers Musk needs is higher.
I don’t know. We’re a hair’s breadth away from Musk’s time as Chief Twit. I do not think so impossible to pull the company out of the current downturn, but Musk seems to be making it harder every time he tweets. And the more political stuff he says, the more I wonder if he’s just high on his own stash, tweeting to get his share of sweet, sweet attention while the company burns.
But who knows! Texas may want to give Twitter a hefty tax break if Musk moves headquarters. Personally, if I were a Texan, I would locate my wallet and hold it in both hands.
Musk’s main interest is money, although this is usually presented as “entrepreneurial.” Think of the stories his family tells about him: selling his first computer program when he was 12, sell homemade Easter eggs door-to-door with his brother, trying opens its own arcade at 16. Dan, you know, selling beer at college parties in his own”unlicensed speakeasy.”
Musk is also ruthlessly organized around his own interests. One such interest is seen as a visionary who will reshape human society. That’s what Neuralink’s promised human trials are all about. SpaceX is promises his first spacewalk and the commercial travel around the moon on Starship as part of as many as 100 missions Musk says he intends. (Starship hasn’t launched into orbit yet.) Tesla’s Cybertruck has start mass production at the end of this year. And then, you know, whatever is going on with Twitter.
I feel weird suggesting those things will happen next year because Musk is notoriously bad at deadlines. He probably doesn’t believe they are important, otherwise he would make realistic ones. Which brings me to my basic theory of Musk: When it comes to what Elon Musk believes, if the conversation isn’t about money, you’re on the wrong conversation. Musk going over his deadlines doesn’t seem to have any financial impact, so the deadlines don’t matter.
But Musk, the richest man in the world or not, is only a small part of the total money in the technology industry and an even smaller part of the technology of money. There’s a lot more, and how does it shape the apps, software, and hardware you use every day? That’s a whole world to explore.