Dec. 30, 2010 at 12:00 AM ET
Listen up, FarmVille fans and iTunes users: You're as likely to spend your dough on "goods" made up of digital bits on the Internet as you are to go to the Internet to buy a real-life pitchfork or a CD. And, you're in good company.
Two-thirds of Internet users go online to buy "tangible" products like books or clothing, and nearly the same percentage — 65 percent — now are also turning to the Web to buy "intangibles" like software, games and digital music, ringtones, books and newspaper subscriptions.
The finding is from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which recently looked at the types of online content Internet users are buying and the demographics of who's doing the buying.
"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," said Jim Jansen, Pew senior fellow, in a statement.
Pew classified "intangible" digital products — such as software, articles and music — as those "that need not have a physical form. This is in contrast to something we have measured in previous surveys but were not trying to capture here: the use of the Internet to purchase 'tangible' products such as clothes, CDs, books or computers or tangible services such as hotel reservations or airline tickets."
Doing the most buying of such intangibles are those in the 30 to 49 age group, Pew says. And that makes sense, as that's an age group that's both somewhat Internet savvy and likely to be earning more disposable income than older or younger folks.
Twenty-three percent of Internet users who pay for online content are using subscription services for products and services like The Wall Street Journal, Rhapsody or Netflix, said Lee Rainie, director of Pew's Research Center.
That's compared to 16 percent who say they have paid to download an individual file, or 8 percent who have bought streaming content, such as movies or music.
"The average expense for those who have paid for content was approximately $47 per month for material they have downloaded or accessed, including both subscription (an average of $12 per month) and individual file access (an average of $22 per month). However, some extremely high‐end users pull the average higher, with most purchasers spending about $10 per month."
Here's Pew's breakdown of the answers it received from 755 Internet users (polled Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) to the question: "Please tell me if you have ever paid to access or to download any of the following types of online content?"
• 33 percent of Internet users have paid for digital music online and for software
• 21 percent have paid for apps for their cell phones or tablet computers
• 19 percent have paid for digital games
• 18 percent have paid for digital newspaper, magazine or journal articles or reports
• 16 percent have paid for videos, movies or TV shows
• 15 percent have paid for ringtones
• 12 percent have paid for digital photos
• 11 percent have paid for members‐only premium content from a website that has other free material
• 10 percent have paid for e‐books
• 7 percent have paid for podcasts
• 5 percent have paid for tools or materials to use in video or computer games
• 5 percent have paid for "cheats or codes" to help them in video games (In this group, Pew noted, "a higher percentage of Internet users in 30‐49 age paid for this type of content than those in any other age groupings. Internet users with a high school education or less also purchased this online content in significantly higher numbers.")
• 5 percent have paid to access particular websites such as online dating sites or services
• 2 percent have paid for adult content.
On that last one, it would be hard to swear to the veracity of that percentage. Many folks in every age group might not want to admit to doing so. But that's fodder for another survey.