With Payments Revenue Still Stuck, Facebook to Bet on Messenger

canstockphoto7547507Earnings and revenue at Facebook continue to boom.

But not in payments.

Payments remains a ho-hum revenue source for the social media giant, according to company earnings released yesterday. While advertising revenue is booming — and we mean BOOMING — at Facebook to the tune of 67% year-over-year growth to $2.7 billion last quarter, payments-related revenue at the company continues to lag. While on a year-over-year basis, Facebook payments revenue climbed 9% to $234 million, it actually fell 1% compared to the first quarter and is down about 3% so far in 2014.

This lagging performance is evident in Facebook’s payments revenue per user. Last quarter, payments revenue per user was $0.18, down 5% compared to 2Q13. This is as the audience growth of Facebook continues to astound. As of the end of last quarter, there were 829 million daily active users of Facebook. In the same quarter last year, there were 699 million DAUs. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s an 18.6% YOY growth rate.

Which is why payments appears to be the bone stuck in Facebook’s throat. The company’s CFO yesterday tried to dial down expectations for payments revenue — the company’s only revenue source outside of advertising — by pointing out that games payments are currently Facebook’s most important payments source, and that revenue stream is waning. “Our current games payment revenue comes entirely from desktop usage and we are seeing declines in the number of people using Facebook on desktop, a trend that will make growing this business challenging going forward,” Dave Wehner, the CFO, said.

But don’t mistakn that for an abandonment of payments revenue. Reading between the lines of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments, Facebook clearly wants to seize on more payments revenue — it is just expecting that to take longer, perhaps even much longer.

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Part of that is tied into Facebook’s new “buy” button, but mainly payments is wrapped up in the company’s Messenger app and unit, and its new unit chief, David Marcus, who is joining Facebook from PayPal. Zuckerberg started by framing where Messenger is today:

Yes … we will clearly do work in payments to accept payments for advertising and on platform and other things that we do. But … we still basically view ourselves as a partner to other companies in the payment space rather than trying to compete directly for that. Our main business is advertising and I think we’re mostly, to the extent that we do payments, it’s going to be supportive to that. I wanted to make one more point, just related to that because I think some of the questions around payments are connected to what we’re planning on doing in the other apps outside of Facebook. So things like Messenger and WhatsApp over time, when that closes and Instagram, I really do just want to emphasize that there is a lot of work to set up the foundation for having a good business community and ecosystem and in those that we think it’s going to be years of work before those are huge businesses for us. And I’m liking where we are now on something like the Messenger, to where we were on Facebook in like 2006 or 2007, where it was primarily consumer product at that time where you really only communicated with friends.

In other words, Messenger is pre-monetization, despite the fact that people now send than 12 billion messages a day on Facebook, and in April Messenger reached 200 million monthly active users. Is it payments that will end up being Messenger’s monetization play? The answer, I think, is in Zuckerberg’s comments yesterday related to Marcus. An RBC Capital Markets analyst asked, “…David Marcus coming over and somebody with a huge payments background running the Messaging product, it’s kind of like … signing Messi up to the Miami Heat, like it’s little of an odd transition. Are we looking at it wrong? Is there any particular reason why he wouldn’t be more focused on payments?”

Here is Zuckerberg’s answer:

Yes, and I mean on Messenger and David, I think he is just a real talented product generalist. … Messenger will have — over time there will be some overlap between that and payments. But I guess what I’m just trying to say is two things. One is, the payments piece will be a part of what will help drive the overall success and help people share with each other and interact with businesses. But we’re really focused on the interactions overall, rather than the mechanism and David shares that view.

And the second thing is just that there’s so much ground work that we need to do in order to make it so that people are communicating with businesses and public figures and entities in these other apps that we’re building, which is part of the business ecosystem. And I really can’t underscore that enough that we have a lot of work to do and we could take the cheap and easy approach and just try to put ads in or do payments and make some money in the short term. But we’re not going to do that. So to the extent that any of your models or anything reflects that we might be doing that, I would strongly encourage you hereon to just that, because we’re not going to and we’re going to take time to do this in the way that we think that’s going to be right over multiple years.

That sounds like a pep talk for the long haul. Meanwhile, don’t expect Facebook’s payments revenue to do anything but underwhelm.

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