It was almost three years ago that Japanese food review portal Tabelog went premium. That was back in September of 2010, and since then it has made some progress in gathering paid users. Kakaku.com, the company behind Tabelog, has just announced that the number of premium members now exceeds 250,000, as of July 28th. The total number of monthly users is over 46 million, and page views are over one billion, as of June 2013. With a monthly fee of 315 yen (or about $3.20), premium members can enjoy additional features such as:
- Sorting or filtering by preferences
- Coupons with discounts of 20% to 100%
- A GPS-enabled feature that finds you nearby restaurants
- Ranking sorted by age and gender
- An ad-free version of the mobile app
Tabelog launched way back in March of 2005, taking about five years to release its premium version – which at the time they did not handle very well. The change was very sudden and the site forced constraints in usage of exisiting features. It was so bad at one point that the almost all of over 440 app reviews submitted were one star ratings. The biggest complaint from the users was the restriction in using sorting features.
But looking at the gradual increase in the number of premium members, people seem to have finally accepted it now, and they continue to use the site. Honestly, there aren’t many good enough alternatives out there.
But the lessons to be learned here are very simple. Don’t make a sudden change without taking the time to educate users and adjust their expectations. Premium accounts should offer additional services, and not cripple something that was already available. Although Japanese people are relatively used to micropayments on mobile, when it comes to smartphone apps where free or one-time purchases are more common, they are more unwilling to pay monthly fees.
Tabelog has found other ways to monetize the site too. In addition to premium memberships, the company also operates an equivalent of OpenTable called Cena that allows users to easily make restaurant reservations. It’s likely that they take a cut when reservations are made, just like they do for when a reservation phone call is made through Tabelog restaurant page.
Despite incidents in the past, Tabelog is considered one of the most successful services in Japan, and it will be interesting to see their future attempts in boosting the number of premium members.