Consumers Spend Over $1 Billion For Content

The Online Publishers Association (OPA) today released its full year 2003 Paid Online Content U.S. Market Spending Report.  The study, conducted in partnership with comScore Networks, found that consumer spending for online content in the U.S. grew to nearly $1.6 billion in 2003, an increase of 18.8 percent over 2002.

Paid online content spending by quarter showed clear seasonal trends, peaking in Q3 at $407 million and dipping slightly in Q4 to $404 million, mirroring a similar trend witnessed in Q3 and Q4 of 2002.  Despite this slight quarter-over-quarter decline, there is no clear indication that the growth of paid content spending is coming to an end.                      

The top three paid content categories – Personals/Dating, Business/Investment and Entertainment/Lifestyles – accounted for 64.0 percent of total online content spending in 2003, up slightly from 62.6 percent in 2002.  Online Personals/Dating remained the leading paid content category in 2003, accounting for 28.8 percent of all paid content spending. U.S. consumers spent $449.5 million on Personals/Dating content in 2003, up a robust 48.8 percent from 2002. However, this percentage increase was eclipsed by the Personal Growth category, which grew by 104.5 percent from $44.3 million in 2002 to $90.7 million in 2003.   

Online Content Spending by Category

($ in millions)

Source: Online Publishers Association/comScore Networks


Full Year 2002

Full Year 2003

% Growth

















Personal Growth




General News




Community-Made Directories








Greeting Cards








Credit Help




According to the report, 16.4 million U.S. consumers paid for online content in Q4 2003, up 2.1 million over the same period in 2002.  The proportion of the total U.S. Internet population that paid for content in Q4 2003 grew to 11.1 percent, representing year-over-year growth of 7.7 percent.  With monthly eCommerce penetration ranging from 22 to 30 percent in 2003, there is still plenty of room for growing the number of paid content consumers within the population that is currently making transactions online. 

“Paid content revenue growth continues to be driven by the acquisition of new customers to the category,” said Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association.  “The number of Internet users who participate in eCommerce continues to be significantly larger than those who pay for content online. As a result, we believe there is still significant growth potential for this market.” 

In addition to tracking paid content spending by category, the report also analyzed paid content pricing models.  While it is no surprise that subscriptions continue to be the dominant model as opposed to single-purchase sales, it is notable that monthly subscriptions have overtaken annual subscriptions as the dominant subscription term.  In 2003, monthly subscriptions accounted for 49.6% of total subscription revenue (compared to 44.1% in 2002), while annual subscriptions accounted for 41.6% (compared to 47.0% in 2002).   

The top 25 Web destinations by 2003 consumer content revenue are as follows: 

Top 25 Web Destinations Ranked by 2003 Consumer Content Revenue

Source: Online Publishers Association/comScore Networks




























The information contained in the OPA’s Paid Online Content U.S. Market Spending Report is based not on self-reported consumer surveys, but on actual observed purchases of content. comScore Networks calculated the results of the study by passively and electronically monitoring the actual purchase and usage transactions that took place during the analysis period within its representative panel of more than 1 million U.S. online consumers.

The 2003 Paid Online Content U.S. Market Spending Report can be found at the Online Publishers Association Web site at

[1] The OPA’s Paid Online Content U.S. Market Spending Report specifically excludes pornographic and gambling Web sites.  For a full description of survey scope and methodology, please refer to Appendix A of the full report, which is available at

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