Caixin
Oct 20, 2017 02:38 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Caixin Chinese Joins Trend of Western Subscriber Model

Caixin Media’s main Chinese-language service is setting a trend as the nation’s first major media to try a subscription model, hoping to follow in the steps of major Western publications like the New York Times in search of a new business model for the 21st century.

Industry observers applauded the effort, as China attempts to shed its image as a land of copycats and become a country with a stronger respect for copyrights and intellectual property. But they also pointed out that Caixin Chinese, a sister publication of Caixin Global, could face more difficulties winning subscribers than its Western peers due to the nation’s rampant copyright violations.

“I think this is a fairly risky business model for a local media company in China because Chinese consumers and businesses may not be prepared to pay money for this kind of news and information,” said Clemence Poon, director of the financial journalism program in the Journalism Department of Hong Kong Baptist University. “The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times are different because they are renowned foreign media.”

Caixin formally rolled out its subscriber model this week, charging readers for some of its exclusive articles in plans starting at 498 yuan ($75) per year. Founded in 2009, the company has earned a reputation as one of China’s leading business publications and is known for breaking news on policy-related issues and some of China’s more-opaque major companies like Anbang Insurance Group. Caixin Global previously launched a paid subscriber service in the spring.

The company is also one of China’s most aggressive media in defending its intellectual property, and has taken on the likes of major Chinese news sites, including Sina Corp. and Sohu Inc., with legal action. With its new subscriber model, Caixin is hoping to imitate the success of Western media like the New York Times, which passed a major milestone in 2015 when it signed up its 1 millionth digital subscriber more than four years after launching the model.

“Caixin is a quality, professional news benchmark in China, and its strategy of going to a paid subscriber model is experimental and innovative,” said Zhang Zhi’an, dean of the journalism school at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. “If serious news can get returns through this kind of digital subscriber model, that would be a happy thing, representing not only demand for paid content but also a certain kind of acknowledgment from society.”

The strategy will face two major challenges, said Dou Fengchang, an associate professor in the journalism school at Fudan University in Shanghai.

“Caixin is able to put out high quality content, but will it be able to get readers to part with their money?” he said. “Second is the problem of copyright protection. In this instance, Caixin has already made its position known. But China’s internet is already a place where most things are free, and the cost of illegal copying isn’t high.”

China Business News, one of Caixin’s chief rivals, has no plans to follow suit by rolling out its own paid subscriber model, Managing Editor Yang Yudong said.

“The big issue is whether or not content alone is enough to get users to pay,” he said. “At the moment, Chinese financial media are not quite there yet, and the first goal is to significantly raise the quality of reporting.”

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

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