Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging platform, has introduced a VIP paid membership package in an effort to monetize its vast community of 324 million users who use its services for free.
The VIP membership includes fifteen "special privileges" under the categories of user personalization, functions, mobile phone, and security. These perks range from using fancier homepage templates, following a higher number of users, and receiving SMS birthday alerts and password reminders.
Users can increasingly access these features, as they progress through six different levels of membership based on points awarded for usage.
A one-month subscription is priced at 10 RMB (US$ 1.57). Discounts are offered for longer subscriptions of three months to two years.
The VIP package has generally been met with muted enthusiasm by industry analysts. The free features of the site are sufficient for users, You Tianyu, an analyst at Beijing-based internet consultancy iResearch, told state newspaper, Global Times. He predicted the premium services would not be significantly profitable and recommended that Sina concentrate on advertising and gaming revenues.
This move follows monetization initiatives introduced last year, such as "Weibi" virtual currency and "Weihao" custom account numbers.
Sina Corporation, which also operates the popular Sina web portal, reported a net loss of US$ 13.7 million for the first quarter of 2012, despite a 6% year-on-year increase in net revenue to $106.2 million.