Weibo, for those who don’t know, is the equivalent of Twitter in China. It has more users than Twitter, but that’s not the only difference. Users can monetize their content on Weibo to earn millions of Chinese yuan.
How one celebrity earned millions on Weibo
The news first broke in May 2018, when one celebrity Chengcheng Fan (范丞丞) earned 4.8 million Chinese yuan (0.7 million USD) overnight for one photo that is monetized on Weibo. Users who want to see the photo has to pay on Weibo.
But it turned out to be somewhat misleading, as the payment was not only for one photo.
As the agency for Chengcheng Fan noted (in Chinese), the payment was for Weibo’s “Celebrity V+ membership service”. It comes with other perks in addition to seeing photos behind paywalls.
Weibo Celebrity V+ membership service
So what is this V+ celebrity membership service?
It is basically a subscription service for fans of certain celebrities on Weibo, launched sometime in Apr 2018. You pay 60 Chinese yuan (8.74 USD) per month for each celebrity that you want to have V+ membership for. There are several key benefits about this service:
“Closer” to the celebrity
Once you activate in V+ member service for a particular celebrity, you get into a member-only chat group, where the celebrity him/herself is present.
You can interact with the celebrity directly. You also get to know other “closest fans” of the same celebrity.
This includes private photos like in the case covered in the news, as well as exclusive videos and voice messages.
Fan status on Weibo and more
With V+ member service activated, your comments will be shown closer to the top, with special labels and effects. You might also get invited to exclusive face-to-face meetups for certain celebrities.
What about non-celebrities?
Fortunately, you can also monetize your content even if you are not a celebrity (yet), provided someone is willing to pay you. This is through the “Weibo paid content”, which allegedly was launched even earlier, in 2014.
Basically it is also a subscription-based service, where authors can set certain posts to be accessible to subscribers of the “paid content service” only and set a subscription price accessing these posts.
Users who wish to see those contents would have to pay Weibo for the subscription service. Weibo then takes a cut and pays the author.
As far as I know, Twitter does not have this kind of business model (yet), so Weibo is trying something new here at least.
Granted, subscription is a fairly old concept, but I have not seen it being used in Western social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). Subscription usually happens on a 3rd party service like Patreon or a product separate from the main platform, like YouTube Premium, whereas the ads are the main source of revenue for these products.
Cover photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/61368956@N00/5812042373