China’s ubiquitous social media and do-everything app WeChat is testing paywalls for official accounts, opening up more monetization opportunities for its content creators as Chinese internet users show willingness to pay for online content.

Some official accounts, which are blog-like platforms, will be able to charge readers either for selected original content or all posts, WeChat said on Tuesday. The content creators can price articles from 1 yuan to 208 yuan (15 cents to US$30), and WeChat will not take a cut on the revenues during the trial period.

WeChat, operated by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, will initially only allow access to the paywall feature to a limited number of bloggers who have published at least three original pieces of content without violations of community rules for three months. It expects to roll the paywall out across a wider group of members in future.

Accounts run by media organisations, governments and companies will be excluded from the official trials, according to WeChat.

WeChat has been exploring a number of ways to keep its users ‘stuck’ to the app. (Picture: Shutterstock)

WeChat, which boasts 1.15 billion active users, is one of the most popular content platforms for Chinese internet users, who can choose to tip writers for content they like. The new feature will allow WeChat to offer its content creators an additional moneymaking opportunity, which in turn should generate higher quality online material.

China’s internet users are increasingly stepping up to pay for high-quality online content – including music, videos and podcasts – as its relatively affluent millennial generation comes of age.

For music, the number of paying users surged fifteenfold to 38.77 million in 2018 compared with five years ago, according to a report by iResearch last year. However, paying users accounted for only 6 percent of all users.

Paid subscriptions have been a growing trend in China for content platforms such as podcasts and news sites, which include apps like Dedao and Ximalaya FM where users can pay for audiobooks and lectures on topics such as industry insights and career planning. The market for ‘paying for knowledge’ was worth 4.9 billion yuan in 2017, and is estimated to reach 23.5 billion yuan in 2020, according to a separate report by iResearch in 2018.

“Readers are willing to pay writers they trust for content that has value,” said Zhang Dingding, an independent internet industry commentator and former head of Beijing-based research firm Sootoo Institute. “With the paywall, Tencent is rewarding writers and also encouraging them to continue to create original content.”

WeChat has been exploring a number of ways to encourage user stickiness. It announced last week that it would soon offer its users the option of creating short-form content amid the explosive popularity of short-form video in China.