“Subscriptions, subscriptions, subscriptions, subscriptions!!!” – Steve Ballmer from an alternate universe where he was a venture capitalist focused on Indian e-commerce.

You’re nobody in India today if you don’t have a direct-to-customer subscription offering. Newspapers are doing it. Online grocers are doing it. Real estate sites are doing it. TV channels are doing it. Food delivery, online travel and ride-sharing companies are doing it.

So much so that Indian consumers might make the journey from subscriptions delight to “subscriptions fatigue” in the blink of an eye.

Unless, of course, someone sees that as an opportunity. And if that someone has been buffeted by a series of powerful headwinds for the last few years, then this opportunity could be strategic even.

That someone is Paytm*, the once-undisputed leader of India’s digital payments space. Today, it’s a large incumbent defending its mindshare and market share against a horde of powerful competitors armed with virtually bottomless wallets and limitless vision. Google. Facebook. Amazon. Walmart. Reliance Jio.

Last month, Paytm launched Paytm First, its own subscription-based loyalty programme that includes memberships to services like Zomato Gold, Gaana, and SonyLIV, as well as cashbacks and discounts for other services like Uber. Paytm isn’t the only one looking to create a super-subscription programme. Times Internet Limited’s Times Prime, which has a similar value proposition, launched a few months before Paytm First. Paytm’s ambition with First is twofold. First, to become the one subscription to rule other subscriptions. And second, to reclaim customers who had stopped visiting it in favour of other services.

Rs 750

The amount Paytm is charging for First, at a Rs 100 cashback.

If it can pull off Paytm First—and that is a big “if”—then Paytm First will be the foundation for the next iteration of its famed ecosystem. One that builds on the strength of its digital wallet ecosystem while making its boundaries more porous. The Ken reached out to Paytm for this story, but the company declined to participate.

The Paytm First imperative

Paytm was the original closed-loop ecosystem on steroids. Its eponymous digital wallet allowed Indians wary of online transactions to use it as a safer intermediary instead of using their credit cards or bank accounts. As more and more Indians signed up, network effects kicked in, making the Paytm ecosystem more valuable for both users and merchants. You could use Paytm to buy products and services.


Harveen Ahluwalia

In her last assignment, Harveen was at Mint, the business daily published by HT Media. At Mint, where she spent about two years, she wrote stories on retail, food and the media business. Harveen is a B.Com (H) graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. She has a diploma in journalism from the Times School of Journalism. Like many folks at The Ken, Harveen talks and tweets a lot. When she isn’t writing or reading, she likes to sketch and doodle. She can be reached at harveen at the-ken dot com.

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