Nearly two-thirds of internet users – 65% – have paid to download or access some kind of online content from the internet, ranging from music to games to news articles. Music, software, and apps are the most popular content that internet users have paid to access or download, although the range of paid online content is quite varied and widespread.
In a survey of 755 internet users between 28 October and 1 November 2010, respondents were asked about 15 different kinds of online material that could be purchased or access after a payment. The online content that we were trying to assess in this survey is “intangible” digital products such as software, articles, and music that need not have a physical form. This is in contrast to something we have measured in previous surveys but were not trying to capture here: the use of the internet to purchase “tangible” products such as clothes, CDs, books, or computers or tangible services such as hotel reservations or airline tickets.
In this survey we asked the following question: “Please tell me if you have ever paid to access or to download any of the following types of online content?” And we found:
- 33% of internet users have paid for digital music online
- 33% have paid for software
- 21% have paid for apps for their cell phones or tablet computers
- 19% have paid for digital games
- 18% have paid for digital newspaper, magazine, or journal articles or reports
- 16% have paid for videos, movies, or TV shows
- 15% have paid for ringtones
- 12% have paid for digital photos
- 11% have paid for members-only premium content from a website that has other free material on it
- 10% have paid for e-books
- 7% have paid for podcasts
- 5% have paid for tools or materials to use in video or computer games
- 5% have paid for “cheats or codes” to help them in video games
- 5% have paid to access particular websites such as online dating sites or services
- 2% have paid for adult content
And 6% of internet users said they had paid for another kind of content that had not been mentioned in the list of 15 we offered.
One can use the metaphor of bits and atoms when referring to online content (i.e., bits) and tangible products (i.e., atoms). In this report, we are examining bits rather than atoms and specifically online content that one must pay for rather than accessing for free.
Of those internet users who have purchased online content, nearly half (46%) have purchased only one or two of the types of content covered in our survey . Some 16% have purchased six or more types of content.
Typical user pays about $10 per month for online content.
The average expense for those who have paid for content was approximately $47 per month for material they have downloaded or accessed, including both subscription (an average of $12 per month) and individual file access (an average of $22 per month). However, some extremely high-end users pull the average higher, with most purchasers spending about $10 per month.
Accessing and paying for online content
Concerning methods of accessing online content, the majority of the internet users pay for subscription services (23%), versus downloading an individual file (16%), or accessing streaming content (8%).
As shown in Figure 2, most internet users who have accessed online content have utilized only one method of access and payment (66%).