Tencent announced its new version for iOS WeChat on September 25 and laid out more challenges for players eyeing the WeChat subscription content cake.

WeChat’s 6.7.3 version allows users to record their own facial expressions as a gif which can be edited. The gif will be saved to a user’s WeChat account which supports different devices.

The new updates, as highlighted in the App Store, will also allow moving to the next text line when typing by long-pressing the text being edited.

Despite these cool sounding features, some updates are making subscription account owners anxious. WeChat added a “Frequently Read” content row displaying users’ most popular content subscription accounts. The row sticks to the top of the subscription main page and will notify users of any updates from the accounts.

At the same time, displays for frequently read accounts and other accounts are different. WeChat allows the former to show a large feature image, but will only display the headline and a side image for the latter.

The WeChat content market expects the updates to further marginalize accounts with declining readership and those hoping to attract readers with eye-catching images. This appears as a further step towards the news feed model of Jinri Toutiao, China’s leading Chinese news platform operated by ByteDance. WeChat, though having denied following ByteDance, is shifting its WeChat account subscription management towards “reading efficiency improvement”.

By the end of 2017, there were over 10 million WeChat subscription accounts providing content covering a wide range of sectors. However, only around 3 million accounts were reportedly active. According to data quoted by local media (in Chinese), which is widely acknowledged in the WeChat content circle, the average browsing rate for a WeChat subscription account (the number of users that click to read an article an account publishes per every 100 users) is less than 5%.

The reality sharply contrasts capital’s interest in WeChat content owners’ profitability potential. In April, Zhejiang Huge Leaf offered RMB 3.2 billion for a digital content company called Quantum Cloud (量子云) which operates 981 WeChat subscription accounts. Earlier this month, a 17-year-old high school student sold a subscription account for RMB 400,000.

Competition among content providers will grow, and not everyone will be allowed to stay.

Runhua Zhao is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Connect with her via email: runhuazhao@technode.com

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