When The New York Times announced in 2010 that it would begin charging people for access to its website, it immediately sparked online debate over free versus paid content on the Web. Would loyal Times readers willingly begin paying to browse articles they could previously peruse at no cost? Or would the prospect of a paywall deter so many visitors that the site might crumble? Since the metered subscription service, which allows everyone 20 free articles per month, went live in late March, 100,000 people have paid The New York Times toll, but that represents only a sliver of the site’s 15 million unique visitors.
Print publications in particular have had a challenging time transitioning their subscription- and advertising-based business models to the Web where free reigns supreme. Unless they’re actually going shopping for merchandise, people tend to avoid spending money online. Just imagine how many fewer YouTube videos you’d watch if the site charged admission. This “will they buy?” question is precarious for content providers of articles, music, movies and more because the Internet offers so many free alternatives. Can’t find that Harper’s commentary and don’t want to drop cash on the site’s online subscription? Google until you can find it reposted on someone’s blog.
But just because people shy away from purchasing content online doesn’t mean it never happens. In fact, a 2010 survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 65 percent of American adults have paid to “access or download some kind of digital content.” What type of online media – as opposed to actual merchandise, like books and shoes -- are we tossing in our virtual shopping carts? The top five things people buy online may surprise you.