80% of Internet users won’t pay for online content

The New York Times reports that a new Forrester survey reveals that 80% of Internet users in the US and Canada are not willing to pay for access to newspaper and magazine websites.

According to a new Forrester survey, almost 80% of Internet users in the US and Canada would not pay for access to newspaper and magazine websites. Those users who would consider paying for content are mostly interested in subscriptions. Only a very small number of consumers is interested in making micropayments (3%). The study also asked which distribution channel consumers would prefer if their favorite print publications ceased to exist. 37% preferred the web, 14% mobile phones and 11% would prefer to read the content on their laptops or netbooks. 10% would prefer PDFs delivered by email and 3% would read the content on their e-readers.

37 thoughts on “80% of Internet users won’t pay for online content

  1. What percentage of people would pay for online content if it wasn’t being used as a tax write-off or being subsidized by the company they work for?

    No mention of RSS aggregators? That’s how I like to get my news in the morning.

  2. “If you gave gasoline away for free for 10 years and then wanted to start charging for it, you would have the same poll result.”

    I think the problem is news is free on TV, too, or from publicly funded website, weekly papers and zines, TV, and radio. For the news most people need to consume that is enough. So they like to read for free online, but they don’t need to. People pay for music or movies online because they have no free options that are readily available.

  3. Not many people have ever really paid for news — except with their eyeballs for advertisers. Newspaper subscriptions usually barely cover just the cost of delivery. Cable TV news fees are hidden in cable fees. How many people would pay if news channels were available a la carte?

    I think most people like access to news but just don’t value it as much as many other things in their lives. The real shift here has been for advertisers who are finding they are no longer beholden to newspapers, magazines and TV stations.

  4. I was paying for access to the King Features site. However; after almost ten months of trying to get them to publish the complete Sunday comics (including a snail mail letter to the syndicate’s President Mr. Shepard) with no response I let my subscription lapse.

    Provide some additional value and customer support if you expect to be payed.

  5. I sometimes wonder about the plausibility of artists, writers and photographers “going off the grid” as a daily matter and instead using the ‘Net to promo printed and pay-per-use work. The downside, of course, is that for every person who tries this, there’ll be two idjits who’ll rush in and offer THEIR stuff for free.

    In essence, the ‘Net is Wal-Marting intellectual content. It’s the new race to the bottom.

  6. Technically donâ??t internet users ALREADY pay? Just to be on the internet?

    No, that money goes to the internet service provider (ISP) and is basically a fee to connect to their tubes, which in turn connects to the intertubes. More of the people that put stuff IN the tubes are the ones who now want to get paid.

    The tube owners are also trying to figure out how to charge differential rates for the stuff flowing through their tubes, which is what net neutrality is all about.

    Sen. Stevens’ hilariously awful explanation of the Internet

    from Wikipedia

  7. As a former statistics major (it didn’t take), the trouble with this poll is that people think they’re being asked whether they *want* to pay for content. Of course they don’t.

    A better question would be: If you couldn’t get the news any other way, would you be willing to pay for it?

  8. Here’s what I find fascinating. Internet advertisers can see specific numbers on how their ads are doing. They can see click through rates and conversions and a host of other statistics. No longer will you have inflated ad rates by magazines/newspapers who multiply circulation numbers by guesstimating how many times the publication is passed along to other readers. Such ridiculous numbers.

  9. Read this in Kramer’s voice…

    Oh, they’ll pay. Get a universalized system of syndicated cartoons where the only way they can see cartoons is to pay – and THEY’LL PAY! Moo-hah-hah! THEY’LL PAY, Jerry!

    (stumbling out the door)

    (stumbling back, half-way into the door)

    Oh, yeah…
    Just come up with the system that embodies all the quality content people want on one venue that has no leaks and they’ll pay. Just develop the system…that’s the tricky part…the tricky part. tsk, tsk…

    (falls out the door into the hallway and into the wall)..

  10. “A better question would be: If you couldnâ??t get the news any other way, would you be willing to pay for it?”
    Unless you can get local news stations, NPR, the BBC, etc. to stop posting news for free and their cable providers to stop bundling news whether viewers want to pay a premium for it or not will we ever be in that place again, Ted? How can you make it so there is no way to get free news? People would pay for news if they had no free way to get it, but most people won’t pay for any particular news source if they have other ones for free or that they are forced to pay for in order to see Monk or Sponge Bob.

  11. Jason, you’re kidding, right? Google Analytics, Alexa, etc. are utter and total horsecrap. Their numbers are pure, grade-A fiction, and anyone who relies on them to spend their valuable advertising dollars is an utter moron.

  12. @Robert:

    How can you make it so there is no way to get free news?

    You can’t. What you can do is make it so there is no way to get GOOD free news. Look at Huffington Post: all the news nobody ever needs to read…in other words, exactly what we/they pay for.

  13. “You canâ??t. What you can do is make it so there is no way to get GOOD free news. Look at Huffington Post: all the news nobody ever needs to readâ?¦in other words, exactly what we/they pay for.”

    Its not clear to me most people want good news. They have always got good news foisted on them by accident, as they tried to get to the celeb scandals, fuzzy human interest stories, community calendar, and drug murders. Losing the good news may be something many readers don’t even notice.

    And, sadly, many local papers don’t even manage to provide good local news. This is why I think papers like the New York Times will have a much easier time surviving than the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, or hundreds of little local papers like it.

  14. People can misquote their traffic statistics all they want, but the advertisers have their own traffic monitoring software on their own sites. They can track where the traffic is coming from, how long people are staying, and whether the new visitors are buying anything.

    If I advertise with a site and see that the advertising is ineffective, or that they are misrepresenting their traffic, they loose me as an advertiser in the future.

    As an advertiser, I would find this incredibly useful and a much more efficient use of my money in comparison to many other forms of advertising.

  15. Ted–

    I think you’re misinformed on how internet advertising typically works.

    Sites like alexa (which we all recognize is a poor data source) are only used to determine relative popularity. That is, if your site is #500000 on alexa, real ad providers probably don’t want you.

    But, once they take you, by running ads with you, they know your numbers pretty much exactly. Every provider I use has extremely precise data on my daily visits. So, in regard to clarity on stats, alexa is a straw man.

    Analytics is actually a decent setup. In fact, based on my server logs and those of people I speak to, analytics tends to underreport. This my be incorrect data, but it’s in a direction that benefits ad buyers.

  16. Ted – can you point to some reliable article that shows how Google Analytics is “pure, Grade-A fiction?” I’d love to see it. If you can’t produce it, I would have to assume you’re wrong.

  17. Alexa is not an accurate number. Most of our users for example are hard core computer nerds and would never install the Alexa software on their machines.

    The package we run our our site gives us exact traffic numbers. I can see how many people hit a given page per day, or even per minute. I can see what site they came from, where in the world they are and what adds they clicked on.

    These are the numbers we give to advertisers.

  18. @Mike: No doubt, individual proprietors of a site know exact figures about their traffic. But how is third party to know with absolute certainty that the figures that I provide to them are accurate? They really can’t. Until there’s a reliable auditing firm analogous to the Audit Bureau of Circulation for the Web, ad rates will continue to be lower than they would be otherwise.

  19. Ted – did you see my question about that Google Analytics article?

    You’re missing the difference, I think, Ted. While in the off-line world you are just guessing about how many people are visiting your website after seeing an ad in a newspaper or magazine, in the online world you get some pretty accurate figures. That’s a world of difference. So, yes, in the beginning a newspaper can lie and bloat the numbers, but after an ad campaign is run for sometime, the advertiser can see the impact on their own business themselves. That’s a huge and important difference.

  20. It’ll take an advertiser about a day to verify whether the stats you supply them are accurate or not. Also various tracking tools (like Google Analytics) allow you to give access to reporting to outside users.

  21. @Ted well if you sell them a million impressions and they don’t get that they know your lying. All the ads have their own tracking. They know how many views and clicks they get. You can’t lie to them about your traffic.

  22. @Ted Yes, to echo Mike, I believe you’re simply misinformed. Third parties know precisely what they’re getting, down to single page views.

    The publisher knows what he’s selling, the middleman knows what he’s offering, and the buyer knows what he’s getting. All of these groups know within a very small margin of error.

  23. @Mike / @Zach :

    Guys, guys, guys….the fundamental problem you’re both having is that you’re arguing from some theoretical universe where people read comics online, advertisers pay cartoonists to reach those people online, and the readers themselves buy stuff from the cartoonists. You guys make it seem like there’s a living to be made out of all that.

    Let’s try to stick to the read world, here.

  24. The thing is, this isn’t an opinion debate, like even the stupid debate over the LICD cartooning scholarship. This is axiomatic mathematical fact. Advertisers know exact numbers.

    Hell, Ted even uses project wonderful. I personally now know his exact numbers and I didn’t even have to buy anything.

  25. Project Wonderful’s numbers don’t track the same as Google Analytics, so they’re estimates. Something like Google Analytics or OpenAds will be a lot more accurate.

    It’s ridiculous to claim that there’s no real traffic data when engineers built all of these systems. It’s not like this is empirically derived, like a model of the atom. When an asset on a website is requested by a browser, it is logged. It’s as simple as that.

    Let me throw this out there though — even if they were estimates within certain tolerances, what difference does it make that it’s not perfectly exact? What exact numbers of eyeballs can an ad agency with a billboard claim? There’s harder data online than there is for traditional advertising. All I know is I get paid.

    Ted, believe it or not, that is as little traffic as you’re doing.

  26. Well, for example, I know from my own tracking numbers that Project Wonderful’s numbers are much, much lower than the real ones. Many other cartoonist friends report similar results.

    Similarly, Google Analytics tracks browser results. What about people who bookmark you directly and check out your site?

    The numbers are precise. But not accurate.

  27. “Well, for example, I know from my own tracking numbers that Project Wonderfulâ??s numbers are much, much lower than the real ones. Many other cartoonist friends report similar results.

    Similarly, Google Analytics tracks browser results. What about people who bookmark you directly and check out your site?

    The numbers are precise. But not accurate.” But they are not accurate in the opposite way from which you are suggesting. You are saying advertisers should be scared because the software tracking is weak and liable to give to liberal results, but then when presented with actual software used, you say it is not accurate because it is to conservative.

  28. Ted, although there are differences between Project Wonderful and Google Analytics, they are not inaccurate in the way you are implying. Perhaps with the small amount of traffic your site gets, the statistical deviations are larger percentage-wise, so using your site may be a poor example.

    But besides, this issue is just a red herring. You can always download software that will give you accurate results. Services, like getclicky.com, give you real time data for your site. You can even follow individual users as they visit your site, look around, and then leave. Advertisers have their own stat information, so they know whether they’re getting what they paid for. It’s just not possible to deceive people in the way you’re implying.

    I would argue that the internet has actually empowered advertisers. This may partially be why ads are commanding lower rates.

  29. I would argue that the internet has actually empowered advertisers. This may partially be why ads are commanding lower rates.

    It’s one of two big reasons why rates are low. The first reason is that there is a virtually unlimited supply of adspaces to run ads in, so the supply/demand curve is pushed to near-zero at the intersection.

    Internet analytics allows advertisers to target their ads. Canon, for example, will pay more for an ad on a photography site than on a general interest site because the visitors to a photography site are more likely to be potential buyers.

    What is a visitor to a cartoon site likely to buy? I get targeted here at Daily Cartoonist with ads for Adobe graphics software in the leaderboard adspace. Makes sense I suppose, but I bet they pay a higher rate for the same ad at a site more targeted at commercial graphics artists.

  30. It’s not certainly a matter of lying or telling the truth. If you have two different statistic programs the numbers will vary, for example. But yeah, at least they will give you a guesstimate. You can say: I have from so and so thousands of readers to so and so thousands of readers. And when the ad networks lets you in and starts serving ads, they will know if you’re full of bs.

    Also: most ad networks don’t use your full traffic to serve you ads. They serve you ads and fill the rest with non-paying ads. That’s why you use several ad networks that work in tiers. This is different from the PA model because they manage their own sponsors, but still, they will know.

    In fact if anyone innocently gets linked on Penny Arcade the first sign is that the full force of the traffic will knock out their servers in no time. You can’t fake that.

    As for people that doesn’t want to pay for content on the internet: Welcome to 2003.

    Webcartoonists have known this for years, and NOW they’re making a survey? LOL.

    The internet has the free model. So what? It’s an indirect model. People who are only realizing it are hopelessly behind already.

    While they are complaining the rest have to keep moving along at the same pace of the internet, which is neck-breaking speed.

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