The Days of Free Content Are Gone, Researchers Say

Gretchen Gallen
CYBERSPACE – The days of free content on the web are over, says the Online Publishers Association. As the Internet enters its maturation point, researchers say that web users will have to get more accustomed to paying for content.

In the early days of the Internet, users were given free content and services from nearly every online business sector. But today, OPA says, as increasing numbers of websites have switched from a free to a fee-based model, those "privileges have become history," and only a "pleasant memory" for the user community.

The study revealed that consumers spent $675 million for online content in 2001, nearly double what they spent the year before, and by 2002, there was a 155 percent leap in the amount of content that was paid for by users, almost double from 2000.

According to OPA, that trend indicates that many websites and portals, regardless of their B2B, B2C or P2P nature, are switching from a reliance on advertising dollars to subscription-based revenues.

OPA further added that 4 million U.S. consumers paid for online content in the first quarter of 2002, an increase of 5.3 million more than the same period of 2001.

Moreover, the average spending per person increased 46 percent in the first quarter of 2002 compared to the same period of the year 2001.

Earlier this year, OPA released a report titled "2003 Paid Online Content U.S. Market Spending Report." The study, conducted in partnership with comScore Networks, found that consumer spending for online content in the U.S. grew to nearly $1.6 billion in 2003, an increase of 18.8 percent over 2002.

Founded in June 2001, OPA is an industry trade organization dedicated to representing online content providers before the advertising community, the press, government and the public.