(TechCrunch) Aiming to monetize what’s become a viral phenomenon, OpenAI today launched a new pilot subscription plan for ChatGPT, its text-generating AI that can write convincingly human-like essays, poems, emails, lyrics and more. Called ChatGPT Plus and starting at $20 per month, the service delivers a number of benefits over the base-level ChatGPT, OpenAI says, including general access to ChatGPT even during peak times, faster response times and priority access to new features and improvements.
The free ChatGPT tier is here to stay — it’s not going away. As for ChatGPT Plus, it’s only available to customers in the U.S. at the moment. OpenAI says it’ll begin the process of inviting people from its waitlist in the coming months and look to expand Plus to additional countries and regions “soon.”
“We launched ChatGPT as a research preview so we could learn more about the system’s strengths and weaknesses and gather user feedback to help us improve upon its limitations,” OpenAI wrote in a blog post. “Since then, millions of people have given us feedback, we’ve made several important updates and we’ve seen users find value across a range of professional use cases including drafting and editing content, brainstorming ideas, programming help and learning new topics.”
ChatGPT Plus might be the first of several plans to come, OpenAI hints. In the blog post, the company says that it’s “actively exploring” options for lower-cost plans, business plans and data packs in addition to an API.
“We love our free users and will continue to offer free access to ChatGPT. By offering this subscription pricing, we will be able to help support free access availability to as many people as possible,” the company continued. “We plan to refine and expand this offering based on your feedback and needs.”
OpenAI previewed the launch of ChatGPT Plus in early January, announcing that it was “starting to think about how to monetize ChatGPT” and publishing a survey that outlined the potential pricing for — and features of — a “ChatGPT Professional” plan. Then, a few weeks ago, several ChatGPT users reported being granted access to a pro tier that cost $42 a month, which in retrospect appears to have been in error.
Despite controversy and several bans, ChatGPT has proven to be a publicity win for OpenAI, attracting major media attention and spawning countless memes on social media. ChatGPT had over a million users as of early December — an enviable user base by any measure. But it’s a pricey service to run. According to OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, ChatGPT’s operating expenses are “eye-watering,” amounting to a few cents per chat in total compute costs.