Sina Weibo, China’s 300 million user strong Twitter-esque social network, now has a VIP subscription service that charges a membership fee to users who opt for some extra features. It’s a new push by Sina (NASDAQ:SINA) to monetize its popular but costly community after last year implementing social gaming and a virtual currency. Sina reported losses of $13.7 million in 2012 Q1, in part due to the costs of running the microblogging platform.
The VIP subscriptions on Weibo cost a flat 10 RMB ($1.57) per month for things like more personalized pages, voice posts, more mobile features, and better security (such as password reset via SMS). There are 15 VIP features in all. Discounts are available if users subscribe for longer periods, up to an annual fee of 108 RMB ($16.99). They’re available on the new vip.weibo.com page when signed-in.
It’s questionable how much Sina can raise from these kinds of premium subscriptions – and it’s not the first time it has tried, having earlier offered greater SMS tweeting support for a fee. Its other forms of monetization, such as via advertising, the strength and ubiquity of its Weibo brand pages, and its social gaming elements, will surely bring in more money. But if, for example, only 2 percent of Weibo’s active users opt for this annual subscription (being very optimistic in every respect and saying that 100 million are active), then this would net the company over 200 million RMB ($34 million) per year. Though that’s a lot of ‘ifs’.
A VIP Weibo user will be shown to the outside world by a golden crown icon on their profile page, as seen with the user @wenxiaogu (pictured above) who opted to pay for the service as soon as it launched yesterday.
Though an uncommon method of monetization on western social networks – where the right kinds of users tend to be worth more to advertisers than could be brought in by fees – it has been done long before by Sina’s rival, Tencent (HKG:0700), with its early social network QZone. But Tencent’s own microblog network, also called by the generic Weibo name, remains free.
[Source: Xinmin - article in Chinese]