Survey: Nearly two-thirds of U.S. Internet users have bought content

A new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that some 65 percent of U.S. Internet users have opened up their wallets and paid for online content, whether that be music, videos, software, games, or other items. However, although there are some big spender who skew the numbers a bit, most online content buyers spend on the order of $10 per month—the equivalent of just a few cups of coffee. However, that so many users are willing to spend money at all is probably good news for digital goods providers in the long term.

survey nearly two thirds of u s internet users have bought content pew  online purchase amounts dec 2010

“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,” said the report’s author Jim Jansen, in a statement. “Additionally, the range of online content that Internet users purchase is quite varied.”

The most common digital content purchases among respondents were digital music and software, with fully one third reporting that they have paid for each online. Some 21 percent reported that they had paid for apps for mobile phones or tablet devices, while 19 percent said they had paid for games. Another 18 percent reported paying for digital periodicals (magazines, newspapers, and journals), while 16 percent said they had paid for digital video (movies, TV shows, and videos).

The survey found that men and women purchase digital content at about the same rates, although men were more likely to pay for software. Income was also correlated to online spending: the higher a respondent’s income, the more like they were to pay for some form of online content. The most popular forms of paid content were subscription services (used by 23 percent) rather than paying to download individual files (16 percent) or tap into live streams (8 percent).

The average amount spend among those who paid for online content was about $47 per month, including both subscriptions and inividual file downloads. However, that average was distorted by “some extremely high-end users;” most users’ online content spending amounted to about $10 a month.

What else do people buy online? Some 15 percent of respondents said they had paid for ringtones, 12 percent said they’d purchased digital photos, 11 percent said they had subscribed to members-only Web site content, 10 percent said they had purchased ebooks, and 7 percent said they paid for podcasts. Curiously, 2 percent admitted to paying for adult content, 5 percent said they paid to access online dating services, and 5 percent said they’d purchased cheat codes or other materials (guides or tools) to get through video games.

They survey was conducted by phone from October 28 to November 1, and contacted 1,003 people; of those contacted, 755 were Internet users; Pew reports the margin of error for the Internet-using portion of respondents is ±3.9 percent.