Zhihu banks on a knowl­edge-seek­ing crowd will­ing to pay

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By OUYANG SHIJIA in Bei­jing and YANG JUN in Guiyang ouyang­shi­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

There was a time when Chi­nese Q&A web­site Zhihu was an im­i­ta­tor and not an in­no­va­tor.

But that was back in 2011 when it was con­sid­ered lit­tle more than a Quora copy­cat.

Six years later, Zhihu has tens of mil­lions of users, look­ing for ad­vice and will­ing to pay for it.

Un­like its Cal­i­for­nia-based ri­val, it is trans­form­ing its business model to cater for the shar­ing knowl­edge econ­omy.

“It’s a new phase in China’s boom­ing econ­omy,” said Zhou Yuan, founder and CEO of Zhihu. “We found peo­ple are will­ing to pay for knowl­edge and ex­per­tise.

“It will also be an op­por­tu­nity for us to ex­tend ser­vices for paid con­tent in fields such as IT, fi­nance and ca­reers,” Zhou added.

The Bei­jing-based web­site and app have proved to be smash hits with the on­line fra­ter­nity and in­vestors.

In­deed, Zhihu claims to have 84 mil­lion reg­is­tered clients and 22 mil­lion daily ac­tive users.

Back in Jan­uary, the com­pany an­nounced it raised $100 mil­lion in its lat­est se­ries of D-round fi­nanc­ing, which gave it a “uni­corn val­u­a­tion” of more than $1 bil­lion.

Sup­ported by new in­vest­ment, the com­pany is gear­ing up to ex­pand its paid-for-con­tent business.

In May, the web­site in­tro­duced a new func­tion on its app known as “mar­ket” to offer paid con­sult­ing, in­ter­ac­tive on­line Q&As and lec­ture-type ses­sions for Zhihu Live and Zhihu Book­shop.

For about 20 yuan ($3), an in­di­vid­ual cus­tomer can ac­cess au­dio and texts from Zhihu Live, cov­er­ing a range of lec­tures and pro­fes­sional dis­cus­sions, which can last for hours at a time.

More than half of the com­pany’s users ac­cess con­tent through mo­bile de­vices such as smart­phones and tablets.

Ac­cord­ing to on­line data com­pany Analysys Qian­fan, Zhihu’s app had 13.78 mil­lion ac­tive monthly users in June, a jump of 7.16 per­cent com­pared to May.

“Free Q&A ses­sions pro­vide a pub­lic space for users to talk and com­mu­ni­cate with each other,” Zhou said. “But knowl­edge pay­ment is a com­mod­ity . . . a way to sat­isfy de­mand for spe­cific ser­vices.

“Our com­pany’s rev­enues are mainly from ad­ver­tise­ment,” he added. “It will still take some time to de­velop the emerg­ing knowl­edge pay­ment mar­ket. In fact, fu­ture rev­enues are ex­pected from fees col­lected from a paid au­di­ence.”

Last year, a sur­vey re­leased by Pen­guin In­tel­li­gence, an in­ter­net-fo­cused think tank af­fil­i­ated to Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd, showed that up to 55 per­cent of China’s on­line pop­u­la­tion paid for “knowl­edge con­tent”.

In an­other re­port, jointly re­leased by the State In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter and the In­ter­net So­ci­ety of China, the coun­try’s shar­ing knowl­edge trans­ac­tions were 61 bil­lion yuan in 2016, a 205 per­cent year-on-year in­crease.

Still, Huang Guofeng, an an­a­lyst from in­ter­net con­sul­tancy Analysys in Bei­jing, is con­vinced on­line com­pa­nies need to up their game when it comes to “con­tent con­sump­tion”.

“The emerg­ing knowl­edge pay­ment trend just caters to a spe­cific group of users, es­pe­cially those look­ing to fur­ther their ca­reers,” he said. “It’s a good thing that star­tups are pop­ping up in China, but they must im­prove the prod­ucts and offer bet­ter ser­vices.”


Bill­boards of Zhihu.com, a Bei­jing-based knowl­edge-shar­ing web­site, have sprouted up in Nan­jing, Jiangsu province.

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