Survey Surprise: People Do Pay for Online Content

Internet users don't always expect something for nothing, and will pay for what they could get for free, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Are the survey's findings a fluke, a sign of the times, or, perhaps, a belated Christmas gift for companies like the New York Times and Amazon?

Internet users don’t always expect something for nothing, and will pay for what they could get for free, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Are the survey’s findings a fluke, a sign of the times, or, perhaps, a belated Christmas gift for companies like the New York Times and Amazon?

The report found that nearly two-thirds, or 65 percent, of the 755 users surveyed had paid to download or access some type of online content.

Digital music and software led the pack, with thirty-three percent of respondents saying they had paid for such items. Other frequently purchased items included apps for cellphones and tablet computers, with 21 percent; digital games with 19 percent; news articles with 18 percent; and videos, movies or TV shows, with 16 percent.

Of the 1,003 people surveyed in the fall of this year, 75 percent were Internet users, consistent with the general proportion of Internet use in the U.S.

The real surprise of the survey may be though not in the details, but in the larger trends, and the good news that it could signal for companies like the New York Times and Amazon focused on paid subscription models.

Nearly one-fifth of respondents, or 18 percent, said they paid for digital newspaper, magazine, or journal articles. One in ten also said they bought e-books.

Jim Jansen, the report’s author, noted, “What was really surprising was that the percentage of Internet users purchasing online content is nearly the same as those purchasing other products and services, such as books and travel. Additionally, the range of online content that Internet users purchase is quite varied.”

Additional findings include that men and women pay for online content at about the same levels, excluding software, which skews more heavily male, and income determines online purchasing power, with those in higher-income brackets more likely to pay for online content.

On average, the Internet users polled spend around $10 per month on online content. 43 percent spent amounts ranging from $1 to $10, while 25 percent said they spend between $11 and $30. The remaining 7 percent reported spending around $100 a month.

And, in what should be a wake up call to consumers, the survey found an alarming 19 percent of people buying content on the Internet not aware of how they’re getting it. Overall, 66 percent of Internet users have used only one method of getting content, like streaming, downloading, or using subscription services.