Are web stories the key to growth for China’s tech giants?

The viral short video app Douyin or Chinese TikTok, up until now has never been associated with reading novels. However, the video app is now seeking to grow in this area. In its latest attempt, the video-sharing expert has plugged in a new feature known as “Douyin Stories” on its platform, which has been undergoing internal testing. The new add-on allows KOLs and MCNs who have a niche in novels and comic content to add links to original texts in their promotional videos, according to the introduction by the Chinese tech news outlet Tech Planet in April.

The new add-on allows KOLs and MCNs who have a niche in novels and comic content to add links to original texts in their promotional videos.

An additional button called “My Reading” has also been embedded in an individual’s profile page, which serves as an entrance to a “Web Story Market” where users can browse and consume this textual content. The hashtag “Web Story” has garnered a whopping number of accumulated views on Douyin, amounting to over 14 billion, showing the huge appetite for such content amongst its existing users and explains the rationale for the series of moves.

A traffic pool in web stories

Such confidence may also stem from a more lucrative market of the overall web story sector in China. The 2021 Research Report on the Development of Chinese Online Literature published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that the sector had reached a market scale valued at 30 billion RMB (4.34 billion USD) by the end of 2021 with over 502 million consumers of such content. This made up 48.6% of the total 1.03 billion netizens recorded in that year

Adding to the appeal is the fact that post-90s and post-00s are the backbones of the web story market, which are the cohorts that market players are keen to engage with. Not only are they interested in consuming such content but there is a growing enthusiasm amongst these demographics for contributing to the output, effectively making writing web stories an avocation for some of those young Chinese.

There is a growing enthusiasm amongst those young demographics for contributing to web stories.

Yuewen Group – one of China’s major online publishing and digital reading platforms, which is a joint venture between the tech guru Tencent and Cloudary – reported that in 2021, 36% of the platform’s 9.4 million writers were post-95s with a year-on-year increase of 80% in authors of this age group, as per the group’s 2021 Persona of Web Story Author Report. Such interest amongst this demographic saw further growth in the following year, as Fanqie Novel, a reading app owned by another tech giant ByteDance reported that 65% of new writers landing on its platform in 2022 were post-90s.

In this vein, web stories are rising to be a new “traffic password” to draw in young users, which traditional tech firms have set their sights on. While existing online reading platforms are beefing up efforts in enriching their offerings, rushing to the race in recent years include Kuaishou, Douyin’s rival short video app, who introduced its independent novel reading app last September. This includes Zhihu, China’s answer to Quora, whose Yanyan Stories app went live a month before Douyin’s latest attempt.

Synergy between short videos and web stories

As more arrive to the battleground, short video platforms, on the other hand, are believed to be advantageous in bringing out an innovative way of online reading, as short videos are viewed to be a more effective medium for presenting the highlights of textual content while enabling a more engaging and concise delivery.

Meanwhile, the feature introduced by Douyin also addresses the copyright concerns that have bothered many creators tapping into web stories, as it enables direct landing on the original story page. Therefore, it encourages more users to produce relevant content, leveraging the large followers of web stories to drive its overall growth.

The small endeavour also allows better integration of ByteDance’s internal resources.

In addition, the small endeavour also allows better integration of ByteDance’s internal resources, creating another avenue for monetisation for the reading arm Fanqie Novel. Once interested viewers click on a link shared in a short video, they are taken to a preview page where a “Read the Story” button will redirect to a paid membership zone on Fanqie Novel for full access to a story. As such, it builds up a closed-loop ecosystem, capitalising on the lucrative user base of Douyin to pull off dual growth in viewership and readership for both platforms.

These efforts made by internet companies show the increasing appetite for incorporating web stories into their original niche, which signals the power this content bears in unleashing the growth potential for platforms and enabling them to deepen the penetration of their target audience.