The Truth About Paid Content: People Lie

Be honest: do you really pay for content? Here's the truth that nobody wants to believe.

“Content wants to be free.” We’ve all heard remarks like this since the commercialization of the internet back in the mid-1990s, and we’ve started to believe them. Even though we pay for content on television, satellite radio and in print, we still believe that, on the web, it should be free.

Well, that’s what we all say we believe. The truth is actually much different.

The latest research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project is making liars of us all. Apparently, 65 percent of American internet users have shelled out some cash for online content. This is almost dead even with the 66 percent of internet users who completed ecommerce transactions for tangible goods, according to a Pew report last year.

This doesn’t sound right, does it? Think past words on a web page, however, and it begins to make a bit more sense. eMarketer reports that music and software were tops: 33 percent of respondents paid for each. No, it’s not a newspaper article behind a pay wall, but it is still digital content. eMarketer continues:

“When you hear that 65% of US internet users pay for online content, the number sounds impressive,” said Paul Verna, eMarketer senior analyst. “But when you drill down into the data, you find that this aggregate number is spread out among a broad base of content types that includes everything from music, software and apps to movies, ebooks and game cheats. No single category in the survey had a paying user base of more than 33%, and relatively few respondents have paid for more than three types of content. This means that content owners still have an uphill climb as they transition their businesses from physical products to digital media.”

The average respondent reportedly spent around $10 a month on content online, according to the survey. Twenty-three percent used subscription models, and two thirds used a single-payment method, eMarketer says.

The next step, it seems, is for this buying behavior to spread to content we traditionally perceive as naturally free. Get ready to open your wallet, because it looks like this is where we’re headed.