Online viewers a hard sell
Of the 49 percent of Internet users that have used free social networking sites such as Twitter that were surveyed for the annual study of the impact of the Internet on Americans by the Center for the Digital Future, none of them – not one – said they would pay for Twitter.
"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 Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg's School for Communication & Journalism. "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."
The study also found that half of Internet users never click on Web advertising, and 70 percent said that Internet advertising is "annoying." Yet, 55 percent of users said they would rather see Web advertising than pay for content.
"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," Cole said. "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 current study reveals a profile of American Internet users who go online more than ever, almost two-thirds who buy online, most households that now use broadband, a majority of families that own two or more computers, and large percentages of users saying that the Internet is important in political campaigns.
But the study also found large percentages of users who express deep distrust in online information, surprising gaps in Internet use within some age groups, low percentages of users who said that the Internet gives them more political power, and continuing declines of users who say that online technology makes the world a better place.
"Internet users deal with an unprecedented level of online connections and communication beyond basic e-mail that did not exist a decade ago: social networking sites, online video, PDAs, texting, IM, e-readers, portable video devices, and most recently the iPad and competing devices to come," Cole added. "Through this technology, users must rely on the Internet more than ever before, yet at the same time, this survey is identifying growing concern about reliability of the technology and user trust in it. Have we reached the point at which users are going into 'online overload?'"