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Millions of Americans use Twitter, just don't ask them to pay for it

By Chris Hogg     Jul 26, 2010 in Internet
According to a new study by the University of Southern California's School for Communication and Journalism, half of all Americans have used a Web application such as Twitter, but none of them would be willing to pay to use them.
The study called "Surveying the Digital Future" found that Americans have a strong negative reaction when it comes to paying for online services.
The study, now in its tenth year, found 49 percent of Web users have used services such as Twitter but when asked if they would pay to continue doing so, zero percent said yes.
"Such an extreme finding that produced a zero response underscores the difficulty of getting Internet users to pay for anything that they already receive for free," said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism in a press release (opens in PDF). "Twitter has no plans to charge its users, but this result illustrates, beyond any doubt, the tremendous problem of transforming free users into paying users. Online providers face major challenges to get customers to pay for services they now receive for free."
Twitter is just one example of a service respondents said they wouldn't pay to continue using. In fact, the Digital Future Study found 55 percent would rather see advertising in front of them than pay for content. Furthermore, the study discovered half of all Web users never click on advertising and 70 percent called it "annoying."
"Internet users can obtain content in three ways: They can steal it, or pay for it, or accept advertising on the Web pages they view," said Cole. "Users express strong negative views about online advertising, but they still prefer seeing ads as an alternative to paying for content. Consumers really want free content without advertising, but ultimately they understand that content has to be paid for -- one way or another."
The paying-for-Web-services issue was one of 180 explored in the study. In addition to social media habits, the survey also looked at general Web browsing, e-commerce, politics and media consumption.
According to USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, nearly two-thirds of Americans now buy online; most households now use broadband; a majority of families own two or more computers; and large percentages of users say the Internet is important in political campaigns.
Despite increased online activity, many Americans also say they deeply distrust online information and many feel the Internet does not give them more political power. In addition, the number of people who believe technology makes the world a better place is on the decline.
The study also noted the following key findings:
• For the first time, the Internet is used by more than 80 percent of Americans (it's now 82 percent).
• The average time online has reached 19 hours per week.
• Internet use is higher among younger people, with 100 percent of those under age 24 going online.
• 19 percent of respondents between the ages of 46 and 55 said they do not use the Internet and 15 percent of respondents between the ages of 36 to 45 are not online.
• New media is used by large percentages of younger demographics, but large percentages of Internet users never go online for instant messaging (50 percent), to work on a blog (79 percent), to participate in chat rooms (80 percent), or to make or receive phone calls (85 percent).
• 61 percent of Internet users said online purchasing has reduced their buying in traditional retail stores. The top 10 online purchases: 59 percent of Internet users said they purchase books or clothes online, followed by gifts (55 percent), travel (53 percent), electronics/appliances (47 percent), videos (46 percent), computers or peripherals (41 percent), software or games (40 percent), CDs (40 percent), and products for hobbies (38 percent).
Media consumption habits:
According to the study, newspapers rank below the Web and TV as a source of information. A total of 56 percent of Web users ranked newspapers as "important" or "very important" sources of info, representing a decrease from 60 percent in 2008.
Furthermore, 18 percent of Internet users stopped a subscription to a newspaper or magazine because they get the same or related content online. The study's author concludes this represents a "...strong indication print newspapers can be sacrificed by a significant percentage of Internet users."
In addition, 22 percent of Web users who read newspapers said they would not miss the print edition if it was no longer available.
"The downward spiral in print newspaper circulation no doubt will be accelerated by advances in online delivery of news content through e-readers or other handheld electronic devices," said Cole. "After years of aborted attempts, these advances finally appear to be practical and affordable methods of providing electronic news content to readers. If so, what will that mean for the future of the traditional print newspaper?"
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