By Liang Tao
On the evening of Valentine's Day, an authoritative source with Tencent said a WeChat official accounts paywall feature for articles will soon be introduced, and the interface setting will be designed by content providers themselves. After a slew of online front-runners, including tech portal 36kr.com and search giant Baidu.com, capitalized on consumers' rising willingness to pay for original and valuable content, messaging app WeChat has started to allow its official accounts to claim payment from vast amount of readers.
That is undoubtedly good news. This function is not only a noble way for showing respect for original content and knowledge, but also an effective channel to spark talented authors' aspirations. The pay-to-read mechanism will put the reading choice to the market, which means readers can choose whatever they want.
Under this mechanism, readers can shield out some vulgar, worthless or even false information. On the contrary, original and valuable content is easy to obtain loyal readerships. Thus, it seems that paying for reading can be an automatic filter to massive info. In the era of info explosion, a large variety of information is no substitute for high-quality content.
If there is a lack of valuable and attractive articles on WeChat official accounts whose major function is to disseminate information to the public, the pay-to-read feature will be a failure at last. From this point, paying for reading works on the premise that a certain number of high-quality works can be consistently made on a regular basis.
However, a "free lunch" is still the dominant model nowadays for information obtained by surfing the internet. How far will the pay-to-read model go? Is the spring for rewarding makers for high-quality content coming? Actually, the consumption environment has gradually changed in recent years following the popularity of online payment. As a result, the public consumption concept has been changing dramatically and accordingly.
According to a latest survey, domestic netizens who have the experience to pay for online content products are quite a few. More than 50 percent of the total 1,800 respondents had ever paid for online content ranging from professional knowledge and paid subscriptions to radio and video content downloading. A report released by IResearch, a global search company specialized in providing search and recruitment services for global organizations, shows that over 50 percent of Chinese netizens had or were willing to pay for online content, and the proportion was only 30 percent two years ago.
In the newly released White Paper on the Development of China's Knowledge Paid Industry in 2016, it reports that domestic netizens are getting more and more willing to pay for customer-friendly and high-quality products. The way users accessing to information is changing as well, from aimlessly accepting information to proactively choosing expertise. It means that users' information selection behavior has become more mature.
It can be seen that paid reading has gradually become a topic of public concern. It can meet readers' rising demands for high-end content, and is the inevitable trend in the near future as long as exclusive content can being regularly made.
From the overall point of view, for all content producers on WeChat official accounts, paid reading is a new mode of money-earning channel. Based on huge amount of WeChat users, once the paying-for-reading feature is introduced, it's expected to generate considerable profits, which can encourage the creation of eye-catching content to enhance loyal readerships. Then, a reasonable business circle comes into being.
It is not difficult to see that it is not just a change in the business model, it will also be a conceptual change in the process of content production. Technology and commerce are now and will be changing the way of content production and how we acquire knowledge.
Are you ready for that?