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Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Britannica mobile apps target the social elites

March 24, 2010 |  6:00 am

Britannica
As new encyclopedias increasingly put their faith in the wisdom of the crowd and free dictionaries become a dime a dozen, software maker Paragon confidently places its bets on the trusted names in language.

Paragon, launched in Germany in 1994, builds computer and mobile applications for Merriam-Webster, Oxford English Dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica.

The company jumped into the mobile space just in the last few years and has several apps for the iPhone and other smart phones. Last week, Paragon released versions of Merriam-Webster's dictionary for BlackBerry, costing $15 to $60.

With Google pushing its free dictionary and others like Dictionary.com dominating Web searches, Paragon Chief Executive Alex Zudin contends that there's still a very attractive market for the "premium reference content."

"Google can't own this market," Zudin said over lunch recently. "Merriam-Webster is the Bentley of the dictionary world."

For many, the fast-improving free dictionaries are good enough.

Blackberry-dictionary Paragon's reference apps target the hyper-intellectual -- the grad student in English, the business executive and the PhD, Zudin said. The elite names in reference materials aren't necessarily going after the online search market.

In addition to trustworthy material, Zudin points to features like audio clips that help with word pronunciations and offline access as worthwhile upgrades. For the latter, apps such as Britannica Core can eat up half a gigabyte of space on your phone. But at least you know it's always available -- as long as you don't run out of battery.

The legacies of language are still adapting to new technologies -- offering up some content free online, supported by ads.

But as always, getting the whole enchilada comes at a premium. And that's a business model that, Zudin believes, will outlive the age of Google.

"They have survived electricity, the steam engine, the fuel engine," Zudin said. "It will survive the Internet for sure."

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Top photo: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times. Bottom image: Paragon

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