Paid Knowl­edge: Revo­lu­tion or Racket?

N May 14, 2016, Zhihu, an on­line ques­tion-and-an­swer plat­form in China, launched a pro­gram for paid an­swers. In a year and a half, the emer­gence of many paid knowl­edge shar­ing plat­forms has changed Chi­nese ne­ti­zens’ idea of free shar­ing, and knowl­edge has

China Pictorial (English) - - News - Text by Zhang Xue

Who Are Pay­ing for Knowl­edge?

An­gel in­vestor Li Xiao­lai’s col­umn “The Way to Fi­nan­cial In­de­pen­dence” is among the most pop­u­lar ones on the app Iget­get. Over 180,000 peo­ple have sub­scribed to the col­umn since it was launched in July 2016. Its sub­scriber count ranks sec­ond only to that of “Xue Zhaofeng’s Eco­nom­ics Lessons.” Li’s col­umn boasts that “the bil­lion­aire him­self teaches you in per­son how to make your­self more valu­able,” at­tract­ing many sub­scribers ea­ger for fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence. Lur­ing slo­gans like “A map for for­tune ac­cu­mu­la­tion” and “Find the way to fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence” out­line a vi­sion to get rich.

The pop­u­lar­ity of such pro­grams fu­eled the de­vel­op­ment of paid knowl­edge shar­ing plat­forms. Paid knowl­edge has as­cended to new promis­ing heights in the in­ter­net econ­omy. Ac­cord­ing to the 2017Re­por­ton China’ssharinge­con­omy , the Chi­nese

mar­ket for knowl­edge shar­ing has al­ready taken shape. It is es­ti­mated that the trad­ing vol­ume for knowl­edge in 2016 reached 61 bil­lion yuan (US$9.3 bil­lion), 205 per­cent higher than the pre­vi­ous year, and around 300 mil­lion peo­ple have now be­come users of knowl­edge shar­ing plat­forms.

From De­cem­ber 1 to 3, 2017, users of Hi­malaya FM, the largest on­line au­dio con­tent plat­form in China, spent 170 mil­lion yuan (US$26 mil­lion) dur­ing the three-day knowl­edge car­ni­val launched by the plat­form. Of all the cour­ses, “Kevin Tsai’s 201 Lessons on EQ,” “Guo De­gang’s First Au­dio Talk Show” and “Su­per Brain Camp” were among the most pop­u­lar. Some lessons de­signed for young peo­ple also proved very at­trac­tive. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pro­vided by the plat­form, peo­ple born in the 1990s con­trib­uted nearly 70 per­cent of the to­tal sales vol­ume dur­ing the car­ni­val. Their fa­vorites are lessons on per­sonal de­vel­op­ment and busi­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to an on­line sur­vey of 1,736 ne­ti­zens, 55 per­cent had paid for knowl­edge at least once, 38 per­cent of whom were sat­is­fied with the trans­ac­tions. As for why they are will­ing to buy knowl­edge, 74 per­cent want pro­fes­sional knowl­edge and insight, 51 per­cent want to save time and en­ergy, and 47 per­cent seek more ex­pe­ri­ence to im­prove them­selves. In par­tic­u­lar, 63 per­cent ex­pressed will­ing­ness to pay for knowl­edge or ex­pe­ri­ence that could help them im­prove work ef­fi­ciency or in­crease their in­comes.

It re­mains un­known what per­cent­age of learn­ers have achieved “fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence,” but it is clear that fa­mous on­line teach­ers like Li Xiao­lai have struck gold. “The Way to Fi­nan­cial In­de­pen­dence,” for ex­am­ple, charges an an­nual sub­scrip­tion fee of 199 yuan (about US$30). Mul­ti­ply­ing that by 180,000 sub­scrip­tions gen­er­ates more than 35 mil­lion yuan (US$5.4 mil­lion) a year, a sum that cer­tainly guar­an­tees fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence for Mr. Li.

Dis­tance be­tween “Know” and “Knowl­edge”

No doubt the emer­gence of paid knowl­edge has given the pub­lic more chan­nels to learn, and has helped find mar­ket value for knowl­edge. But the qual­ity of such paid pro­grams has started to be ques­tioned.

Can we get knowl­edge just by pay­ing for it? An au­thor of Wechat sub­scrip­tion ar­ti­cles shared his ex­pe­ri­ence. From Jan­uary 2016 to June 2017, he bought 67 lec­tures and classes and at­tended a writ­ing train­ing pro­gram. Af­ter

pay­ing 5,000 yuan (US$764) in to­tal for such “knowl­edge,” he felt he didn’t ac­quire much.

It is easy to iden­tify pro­mo­tional tricks of paid knowl­edge prod­ucts: fast, quick, and cer­tain suc­cess is promised if the pur­chaser just fol­lows the teacher’s guide. How­ever, in­stead of nu­tri­tious “food” for the mind, beau­ti­fully pack­aged prod­ucts are more like fast food. A ne­ti­zen noted: “What you buy is ‘know,’ not knowl­edge.”

One ex­pert pointed out that peo­ple who re­ceive frag­mented knowl­edge for a long pe­riod of time will suf­fer from mem­ory loss. They are in­clined to form sim­ple and bi­ased think­ing and nar­row views, and will be un­able to think about com­plex things and think in­de­pen­dently.

Placebo for Knowl­edge Anx­i­ety

The trend that adult pro­fes­sion­als con­tin­u­ously seek learn­ing re­flects the un­cer­tainty re­sult­ing from rapid eco­nomic growth and so­cial trans­for­ma­tion. Un­cer­tainty about the fu­ture leads to anx­i­ety about knowl­edge.

As the econ­omy flour­ishes and new tech­nolo­gies erupt, peo­ple feel ner­vous and get afraid of be­ing left be­hind by fast-chang­ing so­ci­ety. The slo­gan of the app Iget­get is “Build a univer­sity for life­long study,” which acts like a whip lash­ing peo­ple’s nerves, scar­ing them of be­ing left be­hind by the times.

Knowl­edge anx­i­ety and skills panic now gain pop­u­lar­ity among mod­ern peo­ple. An in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple feel they lack knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion and need to feel a sense of change. They worry about be­ing left be­hind. As one ne­ti­zen put it, “To avoid be­ing left be­hind, all I can do is learn fast and ef­fi­ciently to stay abreast with the pace of the times.”

This anx­i­ety pro­vides a hot­bed for the in­cu­ba­tion of a paid knowl­edge in­dus­try, and ev­ery plat­form of­fers philoso­phies and the­o­ries of fa­mous gu­rus while promis­ing fast im­prove­ment by rid­ing the coat­tails of the gi­ants to leap into the elite class. Such pro­grams make it seem as though all that is sep­a­rat­ing the stu­dents from the elites is the rea­son­able cost of sev­eral knowl­edge pro­grams. And peo­ple feel like they are stay­ing caught up by soak­ing up knowl­edge.

How­ever, paid knowl­edge is just the first step of the long jour­ney of learn­ing. Ac­qui­si­tion of knowl­edge has al­ways de­manded painstak­ing learn­ing day and night. No mat­ter how greatly so­ci­ety changes, the ac­qui­si­tion of knowl­edge and wis­dom al­ways re­quires lots of time and en­ergy. Pay­ing money to buy knowl­edge still isn’t an op­tion.


On Novem­ber 10, 2017, Zhihu pre­sented ed an ex­pe­ri­ence mu­seum seum called “Clinic for or the Un­known.” In n this clinic, spec­ta­tors were asked for ques­tions ns at regis­tra­tion. “Pa­tients” ents” talked with ex­pe­ri­enced nced “doc­tors,” namely mely dozens of out­stand­ing nd­ing an­swer­ers on Zhihu, hihu, and then went t to a “phar­macy,” fi­nal­iz­ing iz­ing the di­ag­no­sis s and treat­ment progress. gress.


In Oc­to­ber 2017, Iget­get launched an au­dio book house on Bei­jing's sub­way line 4. Pas­sen­gers can scan the QR code on the spe­cial sub­way train “Lis­ten to a Book Ev­ery­day” to get a free seven-day VIP app sub­scrip­tion.

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