Sina Corp yesterday began membership fees for value-added services on its Weibo, or microblogging, platform, aiming to generate revenues from its 324 million Weibo users to narrow its losses.
Users need to pay a monthly fee of 10 yuan ($1.57) and the paid users can get access to premium services, including personalized pages and voice posts. Users can get up to 10 percent discount if they pay for a quarter or a year.
"The premium features can enable safer and more convenient use of Weibo," Chen Jinguo, Sina's senior public relations manager, wrote in an e-mail to the Global Times, without elaborating.
There are six grades for paid users, who can upgrade based on the duration of use. "The higher the grade, the more functions users can enjoy," Chen wrote.
Sina is trying to commercialize the Weibo platform by charging for value-added services provided to individual users, You Tianyu, an analyst with Beijing-based Internet consulting firm iResearch, told the Global Times yesterday.
Sina reported losses of $13.7 million in the first quarter of 2012 due to weakening advertisement revenue, increased investment in Weibo and rising operation costs.
Sina Weibo's user loyalty would remain largely unaffected as the unpaid services are enough for users, he noted.
But You said the premium services would not bring large earnings for Sina.
Weibo began its monetization attempt with the launch of its own virtual currency Weibi and paid account Weihao in 2011, but neither achieved good returns, according to You.
Tencent's fee for QQ membership is also 10 yuan per month, and Sina Weibo's payment model is similar to QQ. "It is easy to copy the membership model, but quite difficult to replicate the success due to the different user base," You said.
Social networking websites like renren.com and kaixin001.com have launched paid services for VIP members, which have produced some incomes for them, although the amounts are quite small, You noted.
You predicted that other microblogging service providers will follow suit by charging users. Tencent and Sohu denied such plans.
A spokesperson for Tencent, who asked not to be named, told the Global Times yesterday that it would not charge its users. Tencent, China's largest Internet firm, had 425 million microblog users in the first quarter of 2012.
"Sohu's microblogging service would never charge users and we welcome all of them to open accounts with Sohu," Fang Gang, Sohu's vice president, told the Global Times in an e-mail yesterday.
Sina should have its own features and develop value-added services based on user demand, You noted. "Moreover, advertising and game revenues remain important sources of income for microblog operators."