Despite speculation that it might have the opportunity to develop a revenue model in which users pay directly for their use of its service, Twitter has made it clear in the past couple of years that it’s going to make its money with advertising.
Only time will tell if that proves to be a wise move, but for those of us who wonder about what might have been, a similar service in Asia may provide an interesting case study.
Weibo, a popular Twitter-like service in China is rolling out premium features that users will have to pony up for. According to the Tech in Asia blog, which first announced the news, Sina Weibo will, for 10 RMB per month (which works out to approximately $1.57), give paid users access to 15 premium features that their non-paying counterparts won’t have access to. These include personalized pages, voice services, additional security options and extra mobile functionality.
Tech in Asia’s Steven Millward says that the rollout of a premium offering is designed to offset the apparently significant costs Sina, Weibo’s owner, is incurring in operating the service. Last quarter, the company, which is publicly traded on the NASDAQ, lost more than $13m.
The obvious questions: will it work, and if it does, would its success give Twitter executives reason to reconsider a paid offering for Twitter users?
We should have answers to the first question relatively soon, but the second is much harder to answer. Obviously, China is a very different consumer internet market. As media analyst Mark Mulligan explained to the BBC, a number of Weibo competitors also have paid premium features, so Sina may not be risking as much in launching paid features of its own.
The market dynamics in the countries where Twitter has the strongest presence are not really comparable, so speculating about the company’s ability to follow a Chinese firm’s lead may merely be academic in nature.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something here for Twitter to contemplate. While the company has made significant progress in building advertising offerings after a long wait, there’s no guarantee that its ad offerings will stick. If they don’t, Twitter may yet regret not listening to the small but vocal minority of users who have in the past claimed they’d pay the microblogging upstart for premium features.