Posted July 28, 2010 9:35 am by with 7 comments

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Whenever research is brought forward that merits one of those “Is that right?!” responses it’s worth looking into. I guess it’s the Internet’s equivalent of riding by a car wreck, you know you shouldn’t look but you do anyway.

Well, a study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism shows that despite the immense popularity of Twitter there are 0% of people surveyed who would pay to use the service. Yup, zero percent. It’s certainly the kind of statistic that turns head but can it be true?

The study was brought to my attention by a post on the HubSpot blog so I decided to look a little deeper. Since I am a sports fan, my first reaction was the hope that USC’s journalism school is more reputable than its athletic department but I got past that pretty quickly ;-).

“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.

“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,” said Cole. “Online providers face major challenges to get customers to pay for services they now receive for free.”

Not earth shattering because I think that the vast majority of people would at least have to really think about whether they would pay to be on services like Facebook and Twitter. I doubt this will ever be a real concern hence the push to find revenue under every other rock that can be overturned from premium services to advertising and more.

Another finding of the study, however, should concern Internet marketers and advertisers. It states

The responses about Twitter are reinforced by other findings in the Digital Future Study that explore Internet users’ opinions about online advertising. The current study 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,” 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.”

It looks like Internet users are confused and they are just like the rest of us. They want their cake and they want to eat it too. This is the great divide that the publishing industry has allowed to become so great that it may not be closed – ever. Free only lasts for so long and then there are things like payroll and offices etc which are not, and never will be, free.

The trouble is that those are business problems and consumers don’t want to hear about them. They want their content and since they expect it to be free they will rebel (at least in the short term) if there is any attempt to require payment for something they feel they have a ‘right’ to. It’s the old entitlement mentality that is part of the culture whether we like it or not.

Check out the highlights of the report for more information about the Internet in general including the continued decline or newspapers, the public’s general distrust of online information and other interesting ‘facts’ like this one:

The percentage of users age 16 and older who said that communication technology makes the world a better place has declined to 56 percent of users from its peak of 66 percent in 2002.

That’s an interesting ‘trend’ if you really think about it, isn’t it?

So what are you wiling to pay for online? Is there anything that you simply cannot do without that would merit a payment to get it? Where do you draw the line?

Let us know in an informal Pilgrim’s Poll. I bet there are some interesting takes on this out there among our readers.

  • I was brought up on the principle that ‘when something has value to you, someone, somewhere, wants compensation for it’, but paying for twitter – maybe it might be final proof that it really had value for very few all along.

  • I’d pay a nominal fee to receive a higher level of service and be excluded from the ads that are inevitably coming. They have to monetize it somehow and it’s valuable enough to me that I’d rather pay a bit than see it disappear. Having said that I probably wouldn’t pay more than about $5-$10 per month.

    • @Rob I agree with you. The higher level of service I’d be willing to pay. Admittedly, not very developed, such as Facebook.

  • I pay for my internet service and a pay for quite a few domains. But, when I am using a program and at the same time providing them my audience (Twiiter, Facebook) and giving them lots of data, I think they should be rewarding me. And they do by being Free. I make money from ads, so it doesn’t really bother me that they do as long as the ads aren’t too obtrusive.

    Classmates tried a premium service. They are still around, but I don’t know their revenue split.

    Some free hosting and web tool companies offered ad free stuff with a premium service (bravenet) and they are still around. But again, I don’t know their revenue mix.

    So there maybe enough people willing to pay for an ad free environment to augment the ads and make the company quite profitable.

    And maybe that would be a better question to ask.
    cd :O)

  • I’ve thought about it, and I would definitely pay for twitter. My followers who retweet every mashable article they lay eyes on provide me with so much useful information! Nottttttttttt

  • Rob woods

    @Jonathan if your tweet stream is full of people tweeting stuff you don’t need, stop following them. The fact that you have decided to follow people who RT every Mashable article isn’t Twitter’s fault.

  • If Homer Simpson were not a fictional character, he would recognise the fact that nothing in life could be free!