Chinese Artsy Hub Douban Undergoing Major Adjustment as it Mulls Overseas IPO
摘要： Why did Douban close Douban Moment, Douban Dongxi and Douban FM? What did these gestures mean? Where’s Douban heading for? What problems are lurking on the way ahead?
On August 10th, Douban, boasting the biggest library of books, films& TV series and music in China and the biggest online community of young artsy Chinese, sent a letter to users and announced that Douban Dongxi was to be closed soon.
Since its launch on September 17th, 2013, Douban Dongxi has been tagged with “beta” in its logo. As a matter of fact, this is the first e-commerce attempt in Douban’s history. From beginning to end, Douban Dongxi lasted for around three years and eleven months. According to the announcement, Douban Dongxi will become “read-only” in a week and officially closed after user contents were all transferred.
Yet, this is not the first product Douban ever closed. On August 16th, Douban Moment was closed. An insider confirmed to TMTPost that “Douban FM was also to be given up soon”.
Douban users first came to know the “tragedy” from Douban Community. Within a few hours, the news was reposted for 700 times, leaving lots of comments and complaints underneath.
As Douban mulls for overseas IPO, it has become quite bold in business restructuring and adjustment.
As a matter of fact, Yang Bo (also known as “Abei”), founder and CEO of Douban, announced the decision as early as the beginning of this month. “This marks that Douban has entered the stage of pragmatism,” he said in the internal letter.
“We shall close some unprofitable and minor businesses, including Douban Photography, Douban Dongxi, Douban Ticket and Douban Moment. Next, we shall focus more attention on our core business,” head of Douban’s marketing and branding sector revealed to TMTPost as of press time.
For sure, “core business” here means Douban APP, Douban’s comprehensive mobile platform, and Douban Time Podcast, a paid audio content product inside Douban APP.
Against the background of Douban’s commercialization, overseas IPO, paid contents, a group of Douban’s early and loyal users, however, began to mourn for the “death” of Douban, at least the Douban they used to be familiar with.
Douban gets rid of the impression of being “too slow” and become quite “bold”, even aggressive, all of a sudden. As a matter of fact, Abei has already made it clear what constitutes Douban’s core business and what products should be given up.
As Douban closes down some of its “promising” products relentlessly, Douban has also made up its mind to give up users unwilling to change.
It seems, for the first time, that Douban is no longer frightened of criticism from its early and loyal users.
In this article, we shall try to figure out the development paths of these products and look into the destiny of these high-anticipated products in the future. After all, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to observe the transition of a time-honored product as Douban eradicates the old and foster the new.
The reasons behind the closedown of Douban Dongxi and Douban FM
Basically, Douban Dongxi works by integrating commodities Douban users shared into an online commodity exploration community and a customer guide-based e-commerce platform. As is mentioned in the launch blog of Douban Dongxi: Douban Dongxi is based on the massive discussion around clothing, food, housing and transportation. Among 380,000 Douban Groups, over 20,000 are closely related to online shopping, the largest in any category.
In fact, Douban Dongxi was once regarded as the biggest attempt of Douban towards commercialization and profitability and was likely to rise into the biggest online customer guide-based shopping platform. However, it turned out that Douban Dongxi was later reduced into the minority.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, Douban Dongxi is fundamentally based on an “anti-consumerism” community.
On the one hand, without an active shopping experience sharing atmosphere, Douban Dongxi simply became a platform where its “artsy” users could tag commodities and fill up their wish lists.
On the other hand, Douban Dongxi is incompatible with Douban’s guiding principle and slogan, that is, “a spiritual corner”.
Moreover, no synergistic effect can be achieved between Douban Dongxi and the hundreds of thousands of books, films & TV series and music items on Douban. In other words, Douban Dongxi can’t win much traffic from Douban. Worse still, most discussions about creative commodities were confined to Douban groups and won’t naturally be transferred to Douban Dongxi.
Likewise, although both Life is Not Blind and My Fair Lady emerged out of Douban groups, they won’t be included in Douban Reading.
In any account, Douban is just a loose alliance of different platforms, including Douban Broadcasting, Douban Group, Douban Instant Chat, Douban Market, etc. Users of these platforms, however, are largely isolated from each other and seldom do they have the chance to get in touch.
Although Douban has attempted to push users out of their small circles, go beyond separate book, film and music items and communicate with each other on the giant Douban Square and has launched a variety of products, including Douban Square, Douban Alpha City and Douban Instant Chat, they all ended up in failure.
If we conclude that Douban Dongxi failed because it’s off the track of Douban’s core business, then Douban FM’s failure reflected Douban’s incapability in the paid content business.
On August 10th, Douban users first came to know the “tragedy” (Douban Dongxi and Douban FM were to be closed) from Douban Community. Within a few hours, the news was reposted for 700 times, leaving lots of comments and complaints underneath.
“Internally, we’ve already been told that they were to be cloased, but it’s still no officially announced yet,” a former Douban staff told TMTPost. We are also told that Douban FM’s team was currently undergoing personnel turnover and transfer. However, another insider revealed to TMTPost that Douban FM wouldn’t be closed down completely. Since Douban didn’t bother to purchase copyright anymore, users will be allowed to link their Douban FM accounts with other third-party music streaming platforms. Nevertheless, Douban FM will cease to exist, except in name.
The closedown of Douban FM has to do with copyrights.
Although Douban FM once attempted to charge users 10 yuan per month, or 50 yuan for half a year, it was just like a drop in the bucket. Without adequate budget to purchase copyrights, Douban FM’s music library ceased to expand for a long time. Although Douban FM once allowed users to create their own channels, it still has to face the controversy over copyrights.
Launched in November 2009, Douban FM was one of the first few platforms to offer music streaming and recommendation services. Based on users’ preference data and an effective algorithm, Douban FM did manage to provide users with first-class music streaming and recommendation service.
However, as one former Douban FM intern said, in content industries like music and video, IP is crucial. Therefore, product interface, user experience and algorithm optimization should all be based on an adequate amount of contents.
However, as the Chinese music industry enter the second-half copyright battle, Douban FM has no choice but to give up.
Moreover, since Douban FM was reluctant to add search function and provide users with a variety of music lists such as editor’s pick, it failed to meet users’ various needs and rise into a comprehensive music APP where users can both actively select music lists and passively listen to recommended lists of music.
In addition, since Douban separated Douban FM from Douban Music, it missed the golden opportunity to build an active music community. On second thought, however, it might simply be beyond Douban’s capability.
Once upon a time, young Chinese internet users were so enthusiastic about Douban Film Lists and Douban Book Lists. Today, however, NetEase Cloud Music Lists have become the new favorite.
Since music-listening and reviewing are separated on Douban Music, it has already been replaced by alternative music communities, such as NetEase Cloud Music.
Today’s users have already been accustomed to looking through music reviews while listening to music. Therefore, it’s natural that music reviewing platforms such as Douban Music will gradually pale into insignificance.
Besides Douban Moment, Douban Dongxi and Douban FM, Douban Photography and Douban Ticket are said to be closed down too.
Launched in 2016, Douban Photography was an online photographer appointment platform for female users and was once regarded as a promising O2O photography platform. However, as all the photographers on Douban Photography have become unavailable, it’s only a matter of time when it will be officially closed. At the same time, as Douban has almost quitted the film ticket booking market, it’s natural that Douban Ticket will also be closed.
Douban might be getting rid of “useless” early and loyal users
Besides getting rid of sideline businesses, Douban has also been adjusting its positioning and operation model since last year.
As a matter of fact, shortly after Douban released its commercial “Our Spiritual Corner” in March 2016, Douban has started to “invade” in users’ spiritual corners.
Gradually, original contents, such as Douban-published books, Douban Bite Me, Douban Interview, etc., started to appear on APP open screen, front page, search result page and even Douban Broadcast. No matter where you are in Douban’s “universe”, you shall notice these original contents from Douban.
Indeed, Douban has gone away from a simple book, film & TV series and music reviewing platform and embarked on the path of paid content and content e-commerce.
In the past, Douban was more like a customer guide platform for book e-commerce and video websites and could only earn meager “commission fee” in the process. As a startup, Douban wasn’t capable to become a book e-commerce platform, video website and music website at the same time. Similarly, although Douban used to have several different APPs, none of them were dominant in their respective areas.
However, with the rise of paid contents, Douban seems to see its future destiny. Through paid content, Douban not only avoids the direct competition with book e-commerce platforms and video websites, but also can directly turn users into its own paid users.
Today, Douban is transforming itself from a book, film & TV series and music reviewing platform into an e-commerce platform of cultural products with 150 million users. Besides, synergistic effect has been achieved as Douban sees to it that different products are linked with each other, either way.
However, to complete transformation, Douban has to not only give up sideline products and businesses relentlessly, but also give up early and loyal users who have no value.
As many observers have noticed, this group of Douban’s early and loyal users have almost “kidnapped” Douban. Every time Douban adjust itself, they would come up and repel any change. When Douban tried to cater to new users, they would feel offended; when Douban invited celebrated scholars and musicians to open podcasts, they would doubt if they are competent enough.
Just like any other paid knowledge-sharing and content platforms, including Dedao, Ximalaya and Fenda, Douban needs fanatic fans and unfastidious consumers to succeed. However, this group of Douban’s old users just won’t buy it.
In fact, as Douban turns to paid contents, KOLs that once emerged from Douban have been leaving Douban one after another.
Five years ago, Douban used to be a great platform for KOLs to demonstrate their value. Around 2011 and 2012, Douban’s users increased substantially and average number of fans also rose from a couple thousand to half a million. As Douban reached a larger user base, some of quality users, however, began to leave Douban and turn to other platforms, such as Sina Weibo.
Douban’s betting on content e-commerce
As time goes by, the majority of Douban users today have become young people born after the 1990s.
What’s special about this generation? Well, they seem to be more open to paid contents and won’t bother to look through all the reviews before deciding to buy or not.
However, it remains to see if more “intangible” paid contents (savoring poetry and music, understanding classic novels, etc.) can compete with more practical paid contents. Although Abei believed that Douban had entered the stage of pragmatism, Douban’s positioning determined that Douban was heading for the opposite of pragmatism.
If users can get “knowledge” though buying more pragmatic paid contents (perhaps only illusionary), what can they get through buying more intangible paid contents? Spiritual satisfaction?
Is Douban Time Podcast enough to support its overseas IPO? To answer this question, we will have to first take a look at the sustainability of paid content producers and consumers
As to paid content producers, Douban Time Podcast mainly provide paid contents from celebrated writers and musicians by teaming up with well-known publishers and publishing houses.
For publishing houses and cultural organizations, there’s no other platform more appropriate than Douban to further explore the potential of their writers. As long as these paid contents are properly packaged and promoted, they would win a wide audience.
As to paid content consumers, Douban Time Podcast could satisfy the needs of unfastidious users who are more willing to by paid contents and don’t care much about reviews. Users who do care about reviews, however, can still take advantage of Douban as always.
To wrap up, what Douban is trying to do is accumulate users through massive book, film & TV series, and music items, and make profit out of them through paid contents such as Douban Time Podcast. As a whole, Douban is rapidly rising into an active paid content platform and content e-commerce platform.
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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Zhang Yuan. Please note the source and hyperlink when reproduce.]
Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.