The new service, available at a new Web site, expands upon its free electronic version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Collegiate Thesaurus at Merriam-Webster.com. The unabridged version offers more than 470,000 word entries compared with the Collegiate version, which has less than half that number of definitions.
The paid version also provides specialized searches of definitions, etymologies, rhymes, authors and quotations, word games, a monthly newsletter, as well as access to The Merriam-Webster Atlas. The company, which is offering a 14-day free trial, will charge $29.95 annually or $4.95 monthly.
With the move, Merriam-Webster is joining a growing list of Web companies that are adding a paid component to their free content. However, most consumers have been reluctant to pay for information that they previously received for free.
According to a report released Monday by Jupiter Media Metrix, paid online content will generate revenue of $2.3 billion in 2006, up from $700 million in 2001. That compares with online ad spending of $15.4 billion by 2006, according to Jupiter.
However, the research company added that another of its survey's found that 70 percent of adults with online access are not sold on the concept of paying for online content.
"While there is money to be made in the online content business, Jupiter's latest survey and market forecast numbers are indicative that the mass market still largely shuns anything that smells like a subscription service," Jupiter senior analyst David Card said in a statement.
Still, Merriam-Webster is hopeful that its service will resonate with consumers, citing demand for online access to the unabridged version of the Third New International Dictionary.
"One of our slogans is: from the inkwell to the Internet," said Arthur Bicknell, spokesperson for Merriam-Webster. "We have always been interested in innovation...The unabridged dictionary is the huge tome; it's (valuable) for researchers and a lot of institutions. It is not one could ever call a desk dictionary."