China’s Sina Corporation (NASDAQ:SINA) has launched a paid membership service for users of its popular Weibo microblogging platform. The 10 yuan, or $1.57, monthly membership will provide value-added features such as personalized pages and the ability to upload audio posts, according to the local Global Times newspaper.
Sina has faced investor criticism over how it plans to monetize Weibo, the service that replaces Twitter in China and has almost 324 million users. The company reported losses of $13.7 million in the first quarter after dropped advertisement revenue and an increase in investments and operating costs.
“The premium features can enable safer and more convenient use of Weibo,” Chen Jinguo, Sina’s senior public relations manager, told Global Times. There will be six different levels for paid users, who can upgrade based on the duration of use. “The higher the grade, the more functions users can enjoy,” Chen said.
You Tianyu, an analyst with Beijing-based Internet consulting firm iResearch, told the local newspaper that Weibo’s user base was not likely to be affected by the new measure because its basic service remained free. However, the analyst was unsure the introduction would add significantly to earnings.
Tencent’s QQ instant messaging system has a tiered paid membership system, as do social networking websites like renren.com (NYSE:REN) and kaixin001.com, both replacements for Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) in the country. “It is easy to copy the membership model, but quite difficult to replicate the success due to the different user base,” You said.
Online social gaming service Sohu (NASDAQ:SOHU) said it had no plans to introduce a paid membership. “Sohu’s microblogging service would never charge users and we welcome all of them to open accounts with Sohu,” the company’s vice president Fang Gang told the local newspaper.