Bytedance promotes new online reading app as regulators clamp down

2 min read
Shanghai Bytedance
Bytedance logo at its Shanghai office. (Image credit: TechNode/Emma Lee)

Bytedance has started promoting a new online novel platform named “Hongguo Novel” following the three-month suspension of its reading app “Tomato Novel” in July due to lowbrow and sexually suggestive content.

Why it matters: Bytedance has been trying to gain share of the online reading pie as internet giants flock to the market. The new novel platform may help Bytedance retain traffic within its content ecosystem during the absence of Tomato Novel.

  • Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu all have at least one online reading platform. Baidu’s “Qimao Novel” is ranked second and Tencent’s “WeChat Reading” app is ranked third on Apple’s China App Store free reading app list.

Details: Hongguo Novel, which translates literally to “Red Fruit Novel,” ranked fifth on the free reading app chart of Apple’s China App Store as of Friday morning.

  • The app was downloaded around 35,000 times per day on Apple’s App Store for the past week, according to statistics from online data provider Qimai. Downloads for the top-ranked Ximalaya app were around 105,000 times per day during the same time period.
  • The Hongguo Novel developer is Beijing Zhending Technology, a Bytedance-owned subsidiary, which also developed the company’s productivity tool, Lark.
  • The legal representative of the subsidiary is Wei Xionghan, who is part of Bytedance’s efficiency engineering team, according to a report from WeChat media Caijingtuya.
  • User comments for the platform in Apple’s App Store are mixed, with a number of comments expressing dissatisfaction with the app’s design and high frequency of ads.
  • The app was first released on Apple’s China App Store in July as “Changdu Novel,” which the company changed two weeks ago.

Context: Bytedance launched its first reading app, Tomato Novel, in March. In July, China’s National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications (NOAPIP) tightened regulations on online reading platforms, requesting regulators to suspend the service of three major reading platforms for up to three months, including Tomato Novel.

  • The NOAPIP accused the three platforms of “damaging readers’ interests” and corrupting the industry’s culture.
  • The cleanup campaign followed just two months after two other reading apps, Jinjiang Wenxue Cheng and Tencent-backed Qidian Wenxue, were suspended.