Is This The Future Of Online Publishing? Leading Chinese Social Networks Add Paid-For Content
from the worth-a-try dept
One of the topics that generates strong feelings in the online world is adblocking. Many users love it, but many publishers hate it. That's a big problem, because advertising has turned into the main way of funding what appears on the Internet. As adblockers become more common, so the advertising revenue available to pay for creating articles, images, sound and video diminishes. Some want to ban adblockers, but that's hardly a solution: forcing visitors to your site to view ads they hate is not a good way to foster a long-term business relationship. Improving ads seems a better approach, but that's easier said than done, and may come too late now that so many people have installed adblockers.
The other obvious solution is to charge people to view online material. There's been a certain reluctance to try that approach, partly because of the misleading slogan "information wants to be free", and partly because historically it hasn't worked in general. But it seems that major online players in China are now starting to roll out the paid-for model, perhaps in part because adblockers are widely used there, as in the West. Here's what the biggest online service, WeChat, with a billion accounts created, and at least 700 million active users, is trying, as reported by technode:
WeChat, Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s social networking and chat app, will roll out paid services for the content offered by official accounts, an authority at the Chinese internet giant told Yicai Global.
WeChat invited selected official accounts to trial its paid content function, which is not open to general users for the time being.
As their name suggests, WeChat's "official" accounts are a step up from personal ones. They can be be verified for a fee, and allow services to be offered. A few years ago, there were 8 million such accounts; the number today is likely to be higher. The same technode article reports on research carried out by WeChat's parent company Tencent:
A survey of more than 1,700 netizens conducted by a Tencent research unit found 55 percent of respondents had paid for professional knowledge or advice, including paid content and documents in the past year. Over 50 percent of Chinese netizens have paid or are willing to pay for contents, compared with only 30 percent two years ago, an iResearch report found.
Another established Chinese company that hopes it can get its users to pay for online material is Douban, an upmarket social network focusing on the arts, with around 200 million users. China Film Insider has news about Douban Time, a new paid-for service:
Douban Time will feature curated texts, images and sound from experts and writers in different fields. Catering to its audience, Douban Time’s first offering is a 102-episode poetry review program which will invite poets and critics to give lessons in poetry appreciation.
Although 102 episodes on poetry appreciation might sound like something of a specialized offering, it is probably well-suited to Douban's sophisticated user base. And perhaps it will turn out that the solution to finding alternative business models for online publishing is precisely this kind of niche approach, rather than the current advertising system based on volume, that is now struggling badly.