Over the years that the Internet has registered its meteoric growth in the world of media, challenging traditional platforms like print and broadcast, content companies have tried to create a viable business model for their ventures.
One of the big challenges, especially for newspapers, was web users' expectation of free content. The resistance to paying for content could not be offset by online advertising, which doesn't command anywhere near the rates that newspapers get for print ads or that broadcasters pull in for TV commercials. That challenge still shows itself in the debate within the news industry about whether or not to charge for content, something that only a handful of companies, like the Wall Street Journal, have done successfully.
But news reflects only a fraction of the offerings in the online world. The Pew Research Center, which has just released a survey
on how many users have paid for content, notes, "The Internet has become a viable distribution channel for a variety of online content, especially in the era of broadband ... Roughly 66% of American adults currently have home broadband connections, which enables users to quickly and easily download software, movies, television shows, music, e‐books, and news articles. As a result, more and more commercial entities are exploring the Internet as a business model for delivering these types of digital content and media to potential consumers."
The survey, conducted Oct. 28-Nov. 1, found that 65 percent of users have paid to download or access some kind of content from the Internet. Pew differentiates between paying for content that is created for or offered online from using the Internet to buy "tangible" products and services like books, musics, CDs, toys or clothing. A previous Pew study had found that 66 percent of Internet users made those kinds of purchases.
When it came to content, the biggest group of users (43 percent) said they spent up to $10 monthly. A quarter of users reported spending between $11 and $30 a month, while 14 percent laid out $31 to $50 a month.
Not surprisingly -- in this world of iTunes -- a third of Internet users have paid for digital music online. An equal amount have paid for software, while 21 percent have shelled out for apps for their cell phone or tablet computers and 19 percent paid for digital games. (Speaking of games, check out the phenomenon of "Angry Birds" whose creator, a small Finnish company named Rovio, says is played 200 million minutes daily by addicted users. The New York Times reports
the iPhone version has brought in more than $8 million in revenue).
As far as news goes, 18 percent said they had paid for digital newspaper, magazine or journal articles. Most of those who pay for news content are college graduates or people earning $75,000 a year or more.
Pew's Jim Jansen said what he found surprising in the survey results 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."
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