WeChat To Roll Out Paid Service On WeChat Official Accounts?

摘要: Recently, rumor has it that WeChat Official Account’s developer has been inviting some WeChat OA owners to try out WeChat OA Paid Service. What's the background of paid service in the Chinese internet world? What kinds of contents are WeChat users willing to pay for?

(Chinese Version)

Recently, rumor has it that WeChat Official Account’s developer has been inviting some WeChat OA owners to try out WeChat OA Paid Service. However, we are still not sure if it’s paid subscription or paid reading. Such rumor definitely won’t come out of nowhere, so it is likely Paid Service will be added to WeChat OA in the near future.

Still, WeChat OA owners or content entrepreneurs should not be too optimistic about it, which might lead to tensions between WeChat OA owners and subscribers. Instead, they should really think about it, whether from the aspect of WeChat OA developers or subscribers.

It takes human kind seven decades to finally be able to share and distribute information for free (since the born of ENIAC). So why do people turn to paid distribution now? Has the era of paid content really come?

The background of paid service in the Chinese internet world

1. Free sharing is still the dominant model in the internet world

This is not the result of immature business model, but rather because human business has become quite mature. Free sharing is the core of the internet world, especially in terms of internet content. In ancient times, content was free. However, when media gradually mastered information, paid content was born.

After the birth of the internet, featuring the decentralization of information, however, overturns the traditional one-way information distribution model, making media not the only master of information. As long as this remains the core feature of the internet, free sharing will be the dominant model.

From the aspect of economics, internet makes it possible that new users are attracted with no marginal cost. This is also why free sharing can be achieved on the internet. Before the emergence of the internet, users are charged for content because additional cost is needed to attracted new users.

2. There’s still a long way to go to protect intellectual property right

Free sharing of content is beneficial for both content providers and users. However, piracy and plagiarism are all side products. Although free sharing is the majority on the internet, it doesn’t follow that people could plagiarize the fruit of others’ labor. However, many people are not aware of such difference. But why is piracy and plagiarism are so prevailing in the internet world?

Technically speaking, it’s hard to forbid the transfer, copy of content among internet users. Moreover, since almost everybody is committing this or other kind of piracy and plagiarism intentionally or unintentionally, it’s difficult to punish everybody, as the law does not punish numerous offenders. Besides, additional cost might be generated by regulating piracy and plagiarism.

A case in point is WeChat. Although WeChat’s developers have already launched Original Statement and Protection service on WeChat Official Account platform, machine algorithm is still not able to detect imitation and malicious copying. For Wechat OA owners, attracting as many subscribers is their ultimate goal, so they won’t care whether their contents are original or not. In this case, it’s really difficult for WeChat OA to protect the right of original content producers.

If WeChat is really going to roll out Paid Service one day, then can it ensure paid contents are original, instead of reproduced? Is it necessary also to roll out Paid Reproduction service to better protect the right of original content producers?

3. Most users are still not accustomed to paying for contents

At present, most Chinese internet users are only willing to pay for contents such as e-books, industry reports, theses, internet lectures, etc. These paid contents are successful because their target users are very clear. However, these kinds of contents are very different from those on WeChat OA.

Previously, the Chinese internet world has gone through the emergence of paid music items and e-books. For sure, through the nurture of various e-commerce platforms, VIP member systems, e-payment tools, etc., Chinese internet users are becoming increasingly accustomed to internet consumption.

However, users are forced to pay for these contents, because media again grasp the control of these contents. Contents on WeChat OAs, however, are still not controlled by such dominant media, so it’s a typical buyer’s market out there. Even if WeChat rolls out Paid Service one day, many users might just turn to other free alternatives.

4. It’s hard to convince WeChat OA subscribers into paying for contents

It is known to all that the open rate of WeChat OAs has dropped to around 10 per cent on average. That is to say, since there are so many WeChat OAs out there, subscribers of a WeChat OA will only read around 10 percent of all its posts on average. Under this circumstance, many WeChat OA owners will not use Original Statement, Protection and Reward service even if their contents are original, fearing that the service might further undermine the influence of their WeChat OAs. If WeChat really wants to roll out Paid Service, it has to, first of all, help users tell if it’s worthwhile to pay for the content.

At present, there are two kinds of successful paid service models in the Chinese internet world: Fenda and Zhihu LIVE’s model and Dedao App’s model. The former model helps users tell if it’s worthwhile to pay for the content by providing single information source. As long as users trust a person, they will be willing to pay to ask questions or “eavesdrop” answers to questions they are interested in.

In this case, information is again controlled by these authoritative content producers. The latter achieves the same goal by recommending contents as already an authoritative content producer, that is, Luo Yonghao’s personal charm and users’ trust in him.

To wrap up, whether from the aspect of the overall environment in the Chinese internet world, or the habit and awareness of Chinese internet users, the road is not clear for WeChat OA’s Paid Service. Thus, WeChat OA’s developer will have to be cautious enough before rolling out such service. In other words, they have to understand in what circumstances will users be willing to pay for contents, and then meet users’ such needs.

What kinds of contents are WeChat users willing to pay for?

After WeChat rolls out Paid Service on WeChat OAs, a major change will ensue in WeChat’s ecosystem. Those who fail to keep up with the times and adapt to such change will ultimately fail. How to seize the opportunity and continue to thrive in WeChat’s ecosystem? How to produce original contents at that time? Before answering these questions, we will have to, first of all, understand in what circumstances will WeChat OA subscribers willing to pay for contents right now.

1. Paying for urgent needs

Users are willing to pay when they need the help of other people to achieve a clear goal in a short time. For example, white-collar workers will be willing to pay for PPT templates when they are supposed to prepare for a work report, market researchers will be willing to pay for industry reports to acquire necessary statistics, college students will be willing to pay for other theses to write their own thesis... Users are willing to pay for these contents because they are in dire need of them, not because of contents themselves.

2. Paying for acquiring specialized techniques

Users are willing to pay for lectures and materials when they want to improve their personal skills. Many educational WeChat OAs have already been selling expert lectures, real stuff. For example, paid lectures teaching how to operate WeChat OAs and produce Wechat OA posts with over 100,000 view times are very popular in the Wechat OA circle.

3. Paying for exclusive information

Users are willing to pay for acquire information others don’t have. For example, inside stories about celebrities. Users are willing to pay for such contents not because these contents are specialized, but because they are scarce, time-based and users can benefit from these information, which is owned only by a small group of people.

4. Paying for trustworthy brands

Users are also willing to pay for contents produced by charismatic persons who they can trust. While we media owners can produce high-quality contents, there are also a loyal group of users who are willing to pay for such contents. In the process, we media owners can make profit without undermining their brand.

In a word, WeChat OA owners should produce contents that fall into the above four groups, so that their subscribers will be willing to pay for their contents. Besides, WeChat OA owners can appeal to subscribers by establishing emotional connection with them, which may lower the psychological threshold for them to pay for certain contents.

It is foreseeable that as WeChat rolls out Paid Service, user-generated content (UGC) will be gradually replaced by professionally-generated content (PGC) in WeChat OA’s ecosystem. Professionally-generated, high-quality and original contents will be attached higher importance.

WeChat users will be increasingly turning towards paid contents, while low-quality contents will be gradually phased out. However, not all WeChat OAs are accustomed to Paid Service, so there could be huge cost in the trial and error process to test if a WeChat OA is accustomed to the changing environment or not.

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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @yuchaouu please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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