Converting to a pay site

Not me but it seems more and more language sites are converting to a paid subscription model:, RTK, ChinesePod, JapanesePod101, etc. As a user, it kind of bummer since I don’t feel like shelling out the cash meaning that I won’t be using those sites anymore. But I get that running a site costs money. It would suck if I didn’t have and I had to pay for hosting AND work on the site for free (though I still pay for my domain names, no biggie). I’ve spent a lot of time on this site because I want to, not to make money.

As a language learner, I spend most of my money on learning materials (books, comics, electronic dictionary), not on hosted service subscriptions. What do you think about these paid subscription services or when they do a bait+switch from free to paid?

24 thoughts on “Converting to a pay site

  1. I don’t mind the Fremium model. But, I have not found a pay only site I want to lock into. I like to be able to use different approaches. That would require paying for several sites at the same time. So far, I have spent the money on books or book/CD combinations that I can keep and refer to.

  2. I don’t mind paying a subscription for JapanesePod101 because I really feel that the quality of the dialogues and notes are as good as, if not better, than what is offered by a lot of textbooks. Considering that it is perfectly possible to just subscribe for one month, download everything you think you need and then cancel for subsequent months, I think it really offers value for money.

    I think however that the Smart.FM thing really stings. As it is, I did not make much use of it as I found that it did not really help with my style of learning, but I do know other people who got a lot more out of it. I think though the thing that hurts most is the fact that they seemed to rely a lot on user created content. If I had produced lists for Smart.FM I think I would be rather angry about it now disappearing behind a pay wall.

    Of course in this world there is apparently nothing wrong with people trying to make money and I think an expectation that internet content should always be free is perhaps a little misguided but of course it is down to the product. If someone is offering an online resource that I feel is really worth the money they are asking for it, of course I will pay. If not I will happily ignore it in favour of more traditional materials.

  3. Sorry but no. I’m not gonna pay for a web site only I really have no other chose. I’m against the principle of copyright so that would be against my values.

  4. Personally, I feel like anki was better than any of those sites to begin with.

    In general, I try to stick with open source software for anything I really depend on. The companies that make proprietary software can always go out of business, turn to malware, or raise their prices, but with OSS you have some guarantees.

    • Well, I mostly agree.
      But the great thing about was that I could learn at home and continue on my notebook in university. (And the bad thing I couldn’t study in the train without internet connection.)

      • アノニマス, just so you know, you can use Anki online too (for free!). It’s very easy to set up syncing between your desktop and online account. I also have the iPhone app ($25, but I use it so much it was worth supporting the developer), and that also syncs to my online account. The online version is not as robust as the desktop version, but you can do all your reviews on it. All versions can sync to your online account so that all your decks are up-to-date on whatever device you use :-).

        • Well *ahem* I’m not really sure how to add Decks (like ‘Heisig Japanese RTK’ in the desktop version for example) so I’m just gonna upload it. Or is there another way? I’ve only searched/googled for a couple of minutes, so I might have overlooked something.

  5. @Gail
    I think you raise an interesting qoint. Will the creators of’s content now share in the companies profitability, profitability made on the free efforts of its contributors. If I had contributed anything on I would now be raising this question with them directly and if the answer was no I would simply pull my contribution.

  6. I think that if a person or company wants to make money, that’s good, but good business people know that making money requires giving something that other people want at price they are willing to pay. It’s not possible to provide high-quality content at a regular rate without getting something in return. There are some people that use certain strategies for giving without getting something in return.

    This website is an example of that. Once you complete a text, you don’t need to update it anymore, so you can leave it up with very little cost to you.

    However, if you were spending a lot of time to add, modify, upgrade, etc. functions on this site, then eventually you need to find some way to sustain that activity. Getting paid is the way to do that.

    Of course, you need to know what you can expect people to pay for and try to meet that need. Clearly none of the paid services meet your needs, so it is logical that you don’t pay them.

    In the end, I think that finding sources of input, like books, comics, etc. and using Anki or SuperMemo is the best way to learn. That’s what Katzumoto says, and I tend to agree after using it myself. I think any learning services need to help prepare learners to become independent of the service itself, which is perhaps a bit of a risky business model. However, I think it is the most logical goal. I think with that goal in mind, such services will actually be much more useful and, in the end, more profitable..

  7. I have to say that there is wide variance and different degree of professionalism in the content from each of these providers. JapanesePod may have a pretty rough interface, and the registration wall that attacks me every single time I go to log in is pretty irritating, but the quality and quantity of their content is first class. Other sites offering similar material don’t really match up. But then they still give most of their audio, the hardest part to produce, away for free.
    But when a company go and take content produced by its users and use that in their charging model, it’s just plain dirty. But if then, if get annoyed by it happening to your flashcards, wait until we start having to buy back content from Facebook…

  8. I was quite disappointed when announced its switch to a paid subscription model. As an English teacher in Korea, I had created lists for my students. I did not expect those to be useful forever as the students’ textbooks change every few years, but I might have taken a different approach and gone with Anki or some other tool had I known that in advance.

    I think that what disappointed me the most is that the switch to a paid model was never hinted at – as far as I know, anyway – until they were ready for the transition. Had they told us from the start that that’s where things were headed, it would have felt more honest.

    On the other hand, I think that they are doing important work on educational technology and I want to see that kind of effort funded. Ideally, though, that kind of research should be publicly funded. If universities and governments were bankrolling such R&D, it could be distributed for free and made open source as well, so unpaid enthusiasts could contribute and try to make things better if they want to. I’m not saying the private sector has no place in the digital economy, but it should be a much smaller slice of the pie, in my opinion. The public sector should bankroll most of it.

    • Funny you say that because in its first iKnow iteration, they actually had a FAQ explaining why they were free and would remain free, and they basically implied just that: that there was some backing and the website was just there as a public front to test the algorithms that were being made in uni funded research or to be refined and sold commercially to other software developers on the back end. Made it very clear the site itself was not the end monetising goal.

      I recall this clearly because I showed it to a bunch of people as a clear example of what I felt all sites should do to stand apart in the bait n’ switch “Step 1) Get users, Step 2) ???, Step3) Profit” Twitter-style internet business model: lay their cards out on the table. Mostly in response to Facebook criticism with the ol’ privacy bait and switch actually. When they went to, I started to smell a rat as their stated goals suddenly standed in contrast to those initial explanations. Was it all just BS? No idea, but it was a curious set of claims to say the least. I’m guessing part of their plans went awry, and given the different direction they were headed initially I really wish I knew what.

  9. I was kind of disappointed when decided to convert to the paid model without giving users a chance to atleast use the kana cards for free. You know, as a trial offer like how other the other sites are.

  10. I don’t mind a tiered system so much, since I know how much it can cost to create a decent product. At the same time the switch can be very jarring to long-term users. That’s one reason I liked the way ‘Read the Kanji’ did it. Long term users, the ones who’d been there through all the early stages/etc, were allowed to keep using the site for free, while new users have to choose a pay level from a tiered system, starting with free for hiragana/katakana/jlpt 4. Though that may not be feasible for sites with huge userbases, maybe they could at least offer a special discount to users who already have accounts? Or a space of time (month/year/etc) for continued free service while the user finds an alternative or decides to pay?

    I do wish there were a way to convert decks into anki/etc ones.

  11. From what I saw with over the past 2 years: a slow but steady loss of functionality and no new additions, I won’t be supporting it. I’d happily pay a textbook-sized fee for the J-content in it’s iKnow (pre form with the bugs squashed and one or two promised revision additions from that era. But not a subscription. I strongly feel subscription models don’t really match a service like that (especially when the content I use now is actually user-generated primarily).

    I think what shocked me was that , well, not that it was quick — I’ve come to expect chunks of the website to scab off and die on J new financial year by now — but that they are a) a Japanese company familiar with Japanese balance issues b) have been pushing time and time again how their system is designed to cater to people regardless of how intense or lax their study spacing is. An ongoing model kinda says to me “Oh! And all that _science_ we were spouting? Nah, came from my arse.” That was how I read that at least.

    It’s not like there aren’t a tonne of other similar startups in Tokyo right now anyhow. Check job listings for IT workers, dime a dozen, they’ll be muscled out with undercutting when another finally launches anyway.

  12. An interesting thought: The overwhelming majority of the Japanese user-made content on that site were supplements with content lists derived from copyrighted textbooks. Being free, I doubt it’d ever have been a problem, but if they start charging for a copyrighted language syllabus, dare I ask what’s within Pandora’s Box?

  13. As far as I know, japanesepod101 is still giving away the audio lessons. You have to register, and there are continual advertisements for the various non-free services they also offer, but I have not paid them a dime and can download audio lessons season after season. Unless I got grandfathered in somehow by having registered before some change that I’m not aware of, I believe the audio lessons themselves are available free of charge.

    However, it is my opinion that the japanesepod101 lessons should be used in conjunction with other resources (at minimum, a good grammar guide or textbook, a dictionary, and an SRS). Their audio is great for getting your ears accustomed to the sound of the language, but they have a tendency to gloss over grammar issues and give you very loose definitions that frequently ignore part-of-speech. (Their background is really translation, rather than teaching. It shows.) IMO, this makes their audio best suited to be used as supplementary material in conjunction with a course of study built primarily around other resources.

  14. As far as I can tell isn’t using it’s old user created content at all. I didn’t really like when I got my account a little over a year ago but ever since trying the iKnow service I feel like I’m making a lot more progress. I had already switched from my own deck to a core 6000 deck anyway since finding my own sentences proved to be challenging as a beginner. When I get further into the intermediate level I can see myself switching back, but right now iKnow seems to make the info stick. I think this is because, no matter how much we may want to learn something, we’re only human. We can get tired and bored and make shortcuts, even subconsciously. iKnow has helped me eliminate that problem by throwing curveballs. It covers all aspects of a word; reading, listening, speaking, and writing. I may look at a compound and know the meaning, but that doesn’t mean I remember how to write it out in hiragana. iKnow has made sure I pay more attention to each aspect of learning.

    So far I like it but I’m holding my breath till the trial’s up

  15. I stumbled upon (not the site/program) your site through accident but are you stilll giving skype lessons/?

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