Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Who’s Going to Pay for Online Content? A) A Few of You B) Barely Anyone C) You’re Already Paying

eightballThe new conventional wisdom is that sooner or later, consumers will have to start paying for some of the stuff they currently get for free on the Web.

But will they actually pay up? Here, the conventional wisdom is not so helpful. Nor are studies predicting consumer behavior. To wit:

For what it’s worth, my money’s on the Forrester number, or one that’s even lower. My gut says people love consuming news, but only in the broadest sense–Obama doesn’t really Twitter! What was Belichick thinking?–and that sort of stuff, which appeals to a very large audience, will always be free, and you’ll get it from Google (GOOG) or something like Yahoo (YHOO). Which leaves you with a small audience willing to pay for everything else.

But! We should note that people are indeed paying for “content” right now. In fact, they’re paying for a lot of it: $115 a month, up seven percent from last year, says NPD Group. The breakdown:

As of August 2009, 81 percent of U.S. households subscribed to a television service (satellite TV, basic/premium cable, or fiber-optic television service). A similar percentage of households (76 percent) paid for Internet subscriptions. Seventeen percent subscribed to an online music service or satellite radio; and 14 percent subscribed to online gaming subscription services.

More traditional forms of entertainment subscriptions, however, did not fare so well. The number of people subscribing to newspapers fell by 2 percentage points to reach 29 percent in August 2009. Forty-one percent of consumers subscribed to magazines this year, compared to 43 percent who did so last year.

According to NPD, an influx of new smartphone owners has led to an increase in mobile data-plan subscriptions: 9 percent of U.S. consumers had mobile data subscriptions this year, versus just 6 percent last year. Fourteen percent of consumers subscribed to a home-video subscription service, like Netflix, this year, which is 2 percentage points higher than last year.

Ah, see? Problem solved: If you want Americans to pony up for stuff on the Web, just link it to something they’re already paying for, like their cable or Internet subscription.

This is what smart guys like John Malone have been talking about for a while, and it’s also the core of the strategy behind the Time Warner (TWX)/Comcast (CMCSA)/everyone else “TV Everywhere” gambit. But it’s also what many people have been trying to do for a very long time–ask the music industry–with limited success.


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