“Paid Knowledge” App iGet Shows Another Side of the Chinese Internet and its Netizens

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6:00 PM HKT, Wed December 13, 2017 2 mins read

“The basic rule of the internet and all industries is that we should improve efficiency and lower costs. What we’re doing is to give those things that were once extremely expensive to everyone at a very low price, and with few barriers to entry.”

This is part of what Luo Zhenyu, the founder of online learning app iGet (得到), shared at the 4th World Internet Conference in Wuzhen earlier this month. On Dec 8, iGet was included on Apple’s Chinese App Store’s “Best of 2017” list. Soon after, the app — which launched in May 2016 — took to Weibo to officially thank its 12.86 million users, 31 columnists, 13 premium course writers, and more than 150 other writers and vocal performers.

Personally, iGet was my favorite companion when I used to commute between my home and Tsinghua University — a 3+ hour round trip — every weekday. On it, I could listen to Ning Xiangdong, one of the best professors of Management at Tsinghua, which is itself one of the best universities in China. I also enjoyed Wu Zhihong’s column about how to use psychological theories to “know the real you.” Wu is one of the most famous psychologists in China, and his book The Country of Giant Babies (巨婴国) has influenced millions of Chinese readers, even though it was banned from sale in China’s domestic market.

iGet’s model is to sell one-year course subscriptions for 199 RMB, or about $30. The list of speakers included in the app’s curriculum for that price is impressive. One is Wu Jun, a former Google search engineer and Vice President of Tencent’s department of Science and Technological Methods. Another is He Run, China’s “most expensive business consultant,” who talks in detail about how to run a business in his “5-Minute Business School.”

On iGet you can learn about natural history, Western arts, networking skills, writing, investment, the history of Chinese characters, and many other topics, with top experts and professionals from different areas and industries — and all this for $30 a year per course. Luo Zhenyu wasn’t speaking empty words when he talked about following “the basic rule of the internet.”

Special columns on iGet

Each course is subscribed to by tens of thousand of users. Some of the most poular — like Xue Zhaofeng, an economics professor from Peking University — have over 200,000 subscribers. As one of the app’s all-stars, Xue appeared on the NASDAQ screen near Times Square for a recent iGet commercial:

Xue Zhaofeng in Times Square (source)

iGet caters to China’s “lifelong learners,” which includes middle-aged managers who drive to work as well as recently-graduated white collar workers who take the subway for hours every day. The product best suits people with lots of fragmented time, especially in crowded cities like Beijing and Shanghai. iGet gives these users the option of listening to top intellectuals share their insights in certain topic areas, or tuning in to a curated list of short news stories from all over the world read by Li Xiang, one of the best business journalists in China, whose column was recommended by Alibaba founder Jack Ma on the day it launched.

Another feature — “Listen to a Book Every Day” — gives users a daily, 30-minute briefing on a different title, some of which haven’t been translated to Chinese or imported into the Chinese market. Each “book” costs the user less than a dollar, and less than an hour of their time.

iGet’s “Listen to a Book Every Day” feature

“Paid content” might be a familiar concept already, but most don’t associate this phrase with learning about business, management and Classical music at low prices. iGet’s aim is to make access to knowledge equal for everyone, as long as they are willing to spend the time studying.

The “paid knowledge” market, consequently, is now rising sharply in China. iGet’s active and passionate readers might not be as loud on Weibo as other groups — TFBoys fans, for example — but they represent a powerful user base, one that shows a different side to the Chinese internet than fan culture.

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