Pew: 65% of Americans pay for online content

Faith Merino · December 30, 2010 · Short URL:

A new Pew study finds that most Americans have paid for music and software

Roughly two-thirds of American adults have paid to download online content, according to a new study published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.  In a survey of 755 Internet users, respondents were asked about 15 different kinds of online content or “intangible” digital products that they have paid to access or download, ranging from music, to software, and yes—even porn.

So what came out in the lead?  Not porn (but it’s all based on self-reporting, so I’m guessing the numbers are much higher than the study suggests).  Most people are downloading music and software, according to the study.  When asked about which types of digital content that have purchased online, 33% of users said music and another 33% said they have downloaded software.  Additionally, 21% have purchased apps for their phones or tablet computers, 19% have paid for games, 18% have paid for access to newspaper or magazine content, and 11% have paid for members-only premium content from a website that also offers free content.  Only 2% copped to paying for adult content online (but that’s about 15 brave souls out of the whole group who were willing to admit it).

Interestingly, while two-thirds of respondents said that they have paid for online content, the report notes that other Pew studies have shown that that is also the case for people who have purchased tangible objects online, like clothes, CDs, and toys, which suggests that consumers are just as likely to pay to download content as they are to purchase physical items online.

“Some observers have questioned whether Internet users are willing to pay for online content, and many media sectors are struggling with the disruption that digital networks have created for their businesses,” noted the report’s author, Jim Jansen.  “The issue of people’s willingness to pay for online material has enormous implications for media companies, artistic creators, and others who are hoping to sustain themselves—or grow new businesses—by raising revenues through online purchases.”

The survey also found roughly half of all respondents have only downloaded one or two of the different types of content listed in the survey, while approximately 16% have purchased six or more different types of content.

In the demographic breakdown, Internet users between 18 and 49, college graduates, and those with household incomes above $75,000 are more likely to purchase online content than others.  Some other interesting stats include:

While men are more likely than women to pay for downloadable software, music, apps, and games, women are more likely than men to pay for access to news, photos, and ringtones.  Racial categories were broken down into whites and nonwhites, and the survey found that while white respondents are more likely to pay for software, news, and photos, nonwhite respondents are more likely to purchase music, apps, games, and ringtones.

Interestingly, where e-books are concerned, women are significantly more likely than men to purchase e-books, and non-white respondents are more likely than white respondents to do the same.  These ratios are also reflected in another Pew study on gadget ownership, which found that women are more likely than men to own an e-reader, while black respondents are more likely than white respondents to own an e-reader.

But seriously, who’s copping to paying for porn?  (I know, I’m fixating.)  This is the sector that defies other Internet trends.  The races are evenly represented, with both whites and nonwhites equally likely to purchase adult content, while Internet users aged 30-49 are the most likely to pay to download porn.  And the stunner—Web users aged 65 and older are more likely than those aged 18-29 to pay for adult content, which could possibly make this the only Internet space where seniors aged 65 and older outpace younger users.  Gross.

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