December 30, 2010

Paying for Digital Content

WASHINGTON – Nearly two-thirds of internet users — 65% — have paid to download or access some kind of online content from the internet, ranging from movies 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, 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 queried.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project tried to get a broad overview on this subject exploring what types of online content internet users are purchasing, how they are purchasing it, and who is doing the purchasing. The survey data reported here are from telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults living in the continental United States – of whom 755 are internet users. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (672) and cell phone (331, including 134 without a landline phone). Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source from October 28-November 1, 2010. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ±3.7 percentage points, and the margin of error on the internet sample is +/- 3.9 percentage points.

Other Pew Internet findings looked at the amounts paid for online content and the demographics of the population who for content:

  • The majority of the internet users pay for subscription services (23%), versus downloading an individual file (16%), or accessing streaming content (8%).
  • Men and women internet users pay for online content at similar percentages, with the exception of software, for which men are more likely than women to pay to access.
  • There is a correlation between income levels and paying for online content, with the internet users who live in higher-income bracket households more likely to pay for various kinds of content than those who live in lower-income brackets.
  • Of those internet users reporting a dollar amount for purchasing online content, the typical user spent $10 per monthly.

“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,” noted Jim Jansen, the author of the Pew Internet report. “Additionally, the range of online content that internet users purchase is quite varied.”