Qutoutiao: Financial Accounting and Unit Economics of a Mobile Content Platform Case Study Solution


Qutoutiao is a mobile content platform in China that offers personalized news and entertainment to its users. This Harvard case analysis focuses on the financial accounting and unit economics of the platform, highlighting the challenges and opportunities it faces in scaling its business.

Case Issue:

Qutoutiao has achieved significant growth in a short period, but its unit economics are not sustainable. The company needs to address several challenges, including improving user retention, reducing content costs, and increasing advertising revenue. The case also explores the company’s IPO, which raised concerns about its accounting practices and financial performance.

Case Analysis:

Qutoutiao’s revenue model relies heavily on advertising, which accounted for 99% of its revenue in 2018. However, the company faces intense competition from other content platforms, which has led to a decline in advertising rates. Qutoutiao also struggles with user retention, with only 14% of users returning after their first month. To address this, the company has focused on increasing engagement through personalized content and social features.

Qutoutiao’s content costs are also high, with the company paying publishers for access to their content. The company has attempted to reduce these costs by creating its own original content and using AI to curate content. However, these efforts have yet to significantly reduce content costs.

The company’s IPO raised concerns about its accounting practices and financial performance. Qutoutiao’s revenue recognition policy, which recognizes advertising revenue upfront, has been criticized for overstating its revenue. The company’s financial performance also raises concerns, with losses increasing from RMB 554 million in 2017 to RMB 2.2 billion in 2018.


Qutoutiao has achieved rapid growth but faces several challenges in sustaining its business. The company needs to improve user retention, reduce content costs, and increase advertising revenue to improve its unit economics. Qutoutiao’s accounting practices also need to be transparent and accurate to gain investor trust.

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To address the challenges Qutoutiao faces, the company should consider the following recommendations:

  1. Improve user retention: Qutoutiao should focus on creating personalized content and social features that increase engagement and keep users coming back.
  2. Reduce content costs: Qutoutiao should continue to invest in original content and AI to curate content, but it should also explore partnerships with publishers that offer lower content costs.
  3. Increase advertising revenue: Qutoutiao should explore new advertising formats, such as native advertising and sponsored content, to increase revenue. The company should also consider expanding its user base to increase its advertising reach.
  4. Enhance financial transparency: Qutoutiao should improve its revenue recognition policy to accurately reflect its revenue. The company should also provide more transparent financial reporting to gain investor trust.

By implementing these recommendations, Qutoutiao can improve its unit economics and achieve sustainable growth in the competitive Chinese content platform market.

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