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Xinhua Dictionary Gets Lectured for Fee-Charging App
Published on: 2017-06-19
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060One of China's most legendary dictionaries is trying to put a price on knowledge, sparking a lively online debate after its publisher launched an app that charges for word look-ups and other services.

Publisher Commercial Press had no idea of the controversy it would create this week when it launched an app version of its Xinhua Dictionary, which is not affiliated with the official Xinhua News Agency. The volume has been published continuously since the 1950s, and its telltale red binding is nationally recognized.

Commercial Press launched the app in an announcement on its website, noting the smartphone offering was backed by the world's most-circulated dictionary ever, with more than 600 million copies sold over time. The launch featured screenshots of the app's various functions, including a wide range of look-up and pronunciation capabilities and the ability to share words with friends.

But the screenshot that captured everyone's attention, which wasn't mentioned on the promotional page, was a price list for all services beyond the two-word maximum look-up each day in the free edition. After depleting that allotment, users are prompted to sign up for the app's paid packages, starting at 40 yuan and as much as 488 yuan.

While most people are accustomed to paying for real dictionaries, the thought of paying for a virtual edition created outrage among some people who read about the product on the internet. Some people defended the fees, but others pointed out that the starting price for the paid online edition was well above the 29.4 yuan for the traditional paper one.

"I suggest they make it free, which will help the popularization of Chinese dictionaries," said one web surfer named Mingyue Shanren. "What's more, this kind of free online dictionary is quite common. Many people like the Xinhua Dictionary for sentimental reasons because they've used it since they were young."

Another web surfer named Xiayutian sounded a more philosophical note: "Is knowledge something you can really buy with money?" he said.

The ruckus prompted Commercial Press to present its own explanation, saying the app had taken three years to develop.

"Making a static paper dictionary and a dynamic digital one is quite different. We hope this dynamic digital version is just the beginning," said the spokesperson. "It can be updated constantly, and offers many more services catering to an individual's needs."

But the explanation fell on deaf ears for many who are used to getting all of their apps and other internet content for free, including one web surfer named Weifangbudao.

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