You get what you pay for

American Web users appear happier paying for online content than us Brits, which could be worrying news for struggling UK Internet sites.

A study released yesterday by the Online Publishers Association, showed that US consumers spent around US$300 million to access Web content in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 155 percent on the same period last year.

But, according to Forrester Research Inc., UK Internet consumers aren't as free with their cash. Only one percent of UK internet users said they would be prepared to spend more than £7 for unlimited access to their favourite sites.

Where major events have been broadcast over the net, such as live football matches, websites failed to attract visitors where users had to pay to view -- perhaps because getting the best from such events requires a broadband connection, which is not as commonplace in the UK as the USA. But a whopping nine million users tuned in for Madonna's free online concert from Earl's Court last year.

OPA thinks this trend will change as surfers get used to the idea of paying for content -- and as more have broadband connections, paid-for content make more sense.

"As content providers get smarter about creating valuable paid-for offerings, an increasing number of consumers are responding with their wallets," said Michael Zimbalist, executive director of the OPA.

Some paid-for content sites have been successful in the UK.

Microsoft has started charging its Hotmail members an annual fee of £19.95 to access their non-Hotmail accounts, and the company has found the move has proved 'extremely successful'. ISP's Yahoo! and Lycos have also started introducing similar charges for their services. Microsoft is also planning to charge a subscription to its password-protected MSN web access service.

A rumour circulating suggests search engines could become the next group of sites to start charging, although one of the most popular, Google, says it has no plans to do so 'at this stage'.

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