BEIJING — In its latest effort to crack the booming Chinese market, Internet auction site eBay plans to shutter its main Web site in China and replace it with a site run by Tom Group, one of China’s leading media groups.
eBay is contributing $40 million for a 49% stake in the site, while Tom Group subsidiary Tom Online will hold a 51% stake and contribute $20 million, the partners announced Tuesday.
Tom Group is controlled by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man.
Among other things, Tom Online offers content to Chinese mobile phone subscribers, who number more than 400 million.
It is the sole wireless and Internet distribution partner for Warner Bros. Online in China. The partnership, set up last year, included the launch of the Warner Bros. Studios site in China, which became the first to deliver official studio content to Chinese fans via Internet and wireless platforms, including “Scooby-Doo” and “Bugs Bunny” as well as Harry Potter and Batman.
The Chinese market is growing in importance for Webcos — the country has 123 million Internet users and consumers are forecast to spend nearly $6 billion online next year.
The deal will fold San Jose-based eBay’s existing China business, acquired when it purchased local auction site EachNet for $180 million, into the joint venture.
EBay is eager to make sure its 700-person operation in China does not suffer a similar fate to its Japanese operation: eBay was beaten in 2002 by a joint venture between Yahoo Japan and Tokyo-based investment bank Softbank Corp.
Tom Online has an existing partnership with eBay to offer its Skype Internet phone service in China.