Are you willing to pay for online reading now?

Recently, more online media are launching paid versions of its content offerings. The latest to jump on the bandwagon are two leading Chinese online media outlets – TMTpost and 36kr. WeChat also revealed plans to have media outlets arrange their own payment methods for their articles. Is this a worthy step for the media? Did writers finally find a way to earn money?

Besides online shopping, Chinese are not used to pay for some things online like music or articles. However, their values have changed with time. These are not the first companies that want to try online paid content.

Zaihang is a market leader that has established its online paid content business model based on sharing knowledge. Readers can ask specialists questions and pay for their answers. The specialists are usually known entrepreneurs or performing artists. However, I feel that it is more like an economy for fans. Readers ask questions out of affection and the professionals will answer the questions based on their life experience.

Now, this is a different situation.

TMTpost released a professional version at the beginning of this year. The package, which costs RMB 999 (USD 145) per year, includes global database, online class, research report and so on.

TMTpost released a professional version and it costs RMB 999 a year. Screenshot from TMTPost’s website.

36kr also released its special paid column. The articles on this special column are written by professionals or entrepreneurs, and you have to pay the subscription. 36kr writers include Xutao, a famous Chinese journalist in Silicon Valley; Hongbo, China’s number one blogger; and successful investors. Subscription costs range from RMB 199 to RMB 299 a year.

36kr released its special paid column, and costs from RMB 199 to RMB 299 a year. Screenshot from 36kr’s website.

It is not just online media outlets, but China’s largest social media network WeChat also revealed plans to let media outlets be paid for their articles. Not only is WeChat a social media app, but there are also over 2,000 independent media outlets on it. The owners of these media outlets upload their articles almost everyday. Some people even see these as startup projects. Except for advertorials, there is no good way to let writers get paid. WeChat intends to encourage good writers by making money through good quality articles.

To explain the online paid content trend in China is obvious. We are in an over-loaded information era where most information we can find on the internet is free. We started valuing our time, and now need someone to pick good content for us. On the other hand, the writers who work hard can also have good income. It is fairer this way.

People accepting online paid content is only the first step. The next challenge is to guarantee the quality of the content. The paid content should be unique and useful, ensuring that it is really worth the money. However, this is not easy as reading is more of a personalized than standardized style.

Copyright is also a concern. It is still common on the Internet to copy a story by plagiarizing some sentences or ideas.

Another challenge is the continuity of online paid content business. In other words, it has to keep readers interested and passionate about it.

To be fair, reading and learning are not easy. We have to overcome our laziness. Just think of how many books we have bought to encourage ourselves to read some pages everyday. But in the end, how many books have we actually finished reading?

(Top photo from Pexels)

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