Chinese netizens say “yes” to pay-for-knowledge apps

Updated 2018-01-30 16:12:00

"Better late than never." "Only books are immortal."

If you are a WeChat user, you will see similar mottos in English shared by many of your circle of friends, each containing a link that records how your friends read tens of thousands of words on an English classics reading app called Mint Reading.

The online reading craze comes amid China's explosive paying-for-knowledge industry, which has been on the rise since 2016 – an epoch year for the industry.

In 2017, the industry was estimated to have grown into a 50-billion-plus yuan market, according to a report issued by Chinese Academy of Press and Publication on Jan 12.

Mint Reading, the English classic-reading service from Chengdu, has reportedly garnered hundreds of thousands of yuan from its booking-reading users across China, even though it is only a small player in the industry, especially when compared with China's Quora-like Q&A site Zhihu and mobile learning app iGet, which already boasted annual revenue of 140 million yuan.

As another giant in the industry, Ximalaya FM, an audio sharing platform, has 450 million users and more than 5 million hosts, taking up 73 percent of the total market share, according to Zhou Xiaohan, vice president of the company.

Zhou said at the 2018 Mobile Internet Summit on Jan. 18 that active users spend an average of 128 minutes on the platform's channels, which range from crosstalk shows to online courses, yet the most popular ones are on parenting, humanities, language studies, and finance.

One of the most popular channels is "Master Class," which invites famous professors to give lectures to users, including economics professor Chen Zhiwu from Yale University. Chen's course sales topped 100,000 yuan within six months after it was launched.

"This is more than just data. This shows how our Chinese users are keen for knowledge," Zhou said.

"We have moved beyond simply valuing knowledge within a single major. I believe this is an important prerequisite for paying-for-knowledge apps to develop in China," she noted.

The rapid growth of the Internet in China has provided for the basic demands of Chinese netizens under the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, such as communication tools that provided a sense of belonging and e-commerce for basic physiological needs. It is bound to reach self-actualization, said Zhou Ting, deputy dean at Cheetah Lab, a mobile Internet-focused research institution, in an exclusive interview with People's Daily Online.

"People used to rely on self-study or training centers. However, the decentralized nature of the Internet has made communication easier and lowered costs and saved time. It also allows more professionals to spread their knowledge. All this provide a solid foundation for paying-for-knowledge industry to grow rapidly," the Cheetah Lab expert observed.

Paying-for-knowledge remains a new phenomenon on the Chinese Internet, as knowledge sharing used to be free online, but the public's rising awareness of intellectual property rights has helped the industry gain momentum, according to Zhou Ting, adding that the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) that are popular in the West can be included as a form of paying-for-knowledge service.

Meanwhile, China has also stepped up its efforts in MOOC with a latest national plan from the Ministry of Education to launch 490 high-quality online courses in mid-January. By 2020, another 3,000 national-level excellent online courses will be set up.

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