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|Tuesday, July 17, 2001, updated at 08:32(GMT+8)|
Fees on E-mail Service ComingThe recent launch of paid e-mail box services by several major providers in China may be a big step towards changing Internet users' expectations of free online services.
Sina.com, the largest Internet portal in China with more than 22 million registered free mail users, said it will promote its paid mail services soon.
"Both the attitudes of the dotcoms and Internet users toward free services on the Web have begun to change, and it will create a favorable environment for us to charge fees with our value-added services,'' said Yu Shiyun, an executive in charge of new products in Sina.
Yu said the charge scheme aims first at professionals who want bigger mailboxes, fast speed and high security.
It is unclear if or when non-business users will have to pay.
Although Yu did not specify the exact pricing strategy and the expected number of paid subscribers, he said price would depend on user demand for mailbox space.
The average price for a 10-megabyte box is about 100 yuan (US$12) per year.
Under pressure to raise revenues, Sina is placing much hope in this practice.
"Paid mail service will become a major revenue source for Sina, and I believe it will play a very significant role in the company's revenue structure in two years,'' Yu Shiyun said.
The effort also aims at controlling the rampant growth in the number of users for Sina.
"By the end of this year, we may have 29 million users, and that means we will have to add more servers and give more technical support,'' Yu said.
"The expenses will all go to Sina, and that is not fair,'' he added.
While companies like Sina.com are trying out their paid mail service scheme, the Hong Kong-based Tom.com has gone even further.
The company announced on June 28 it would not admit any more free mail users for its mail portal, 163.net, one of the nation's earliest and largest mail providers. It has more than 15 million users.
Users now may either pay 5 yuan (60 US cents) for one month or 120 yuan (US$15) for one year.
"Paid service will become a trend,'' said Wang Leilei, general manager of Tom's Chinese mainland operations. "We will not hesitate to be a pioneer in that.''
Other major free mail providers have launched their paid mail service, too, with 263.net claiming more than 100,000 paying users.
Other big players, including Sohu and Netease, are considering the change.
Although the number of subscribers remain small for now compared with the overall Internet-using population, analysts believe that will change soon.
"The combined users of Sina.com and 163.net number nearly 40 million, so their influences on the whole market can't be overlooked,'' said Wang Jian, a Beijing-based Internet market observer.
"E-mail is the most frequently used online service, so changes at Sina.com will make an impact.''
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