Sina Weibo starts to charge for membership

Mon 25 June 2012 08:30, Qin Hu

Sina Weibo starts to charge for membership

Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter and the most popular microblog, has decided to start to charge subscribers with a minimum fee – 10 RMB ($1.57) per month and offering extra services.

Sina is trying to commercialize the Weibo platform by charging for value-added services provided to individual users. The VIP subscriptions get 15 special privileges under the categories of user personalization, functions, mobile phone, and security. Using fancier homepage templates, following a higher number of users, and receiving SMS birthday alerts and password reminders are released premium services. Furthermore, 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,” as stated by Chen Jinguo, Sina’s senior public relations manager. For example, a paying user will be allowed to follow more than 2,000 members. VIP level 1-3 could follow 2,500 other users, and VIP 4-6 could follow a maximum of 3,000.

Discount packages are also planned for users who sign up to 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. The discount rate for a 12-month package is 90%. It is also very easy for subscribers to pay, such as via online banking, wei currency, mobile, and by phone.

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According to BBC, Sina Weibo's move could help it generate revenues in order to narrow its losses, which are $13.7 million in the first quarter.

Marketers in western countries think it is a brave move, but it isn’t suitable for western social networks. “It’s a very brave move, and I don’t think it is likely that Twitter would follow a similar route, certainly not at this stage,” said Mark Mulligan, an independent media analyst. “In order to start charging for something that people expect to be free, a company has to be very confident to its market position.”

However, Sina might be too rash to start this move. It is hard to change something people think should be free. Regarding China times, only 2.3% of users will upgrade to the paid service, 18.4% are not sure. The rest states that they will not pay for the service.


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