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Summary:

A majority of Chinese internet users say they pay for digital content. That finding is likely a demographic quirk — but may nevertheless mean a welcome market opportunity for vendors.

Shanghai skyline, China
photo: Robert S. Donovan

Of all the nations where you would expect to find the greatest consumer willingness to pay for digital content, China — land of so much piracy — would not be it.

But that is indeed the case, according to annual research conducted for UK communications regulator Ofcom…

Ofcom CMR 2012 - global content payment

Although at least half of those polled in eight other countries said they never pay for content, that was just 16 percent in China, where more than half of internet users sometimes or regularly do so.

These are much desired numbers for online operators who find it hard to get consumers to cough up. So what’s going on here?

Back in the summer I questioned a different research exercise for finding unexpectedly high numbers of people who planned to watch the Olympics online. The finding did not tally with what we know about internet adoption that, whilst booming among urbanites, is growing more slowly elsewhere.

Like that research, Ofcom’s naturally skews toward young, urban and more affluent consumers — as opposed to the much poorer citizens in more rural areas — because this is where China still sits on its internet adoption curve.

In the same way, note how — surprisingly — a far higher percentage of people in China than elsewhere (around three quarters) say the internet is their main source of national news… Whilst internet adoption has reached mass-participation levels in many western countries, it simply isn’t true to say that three quarters of Chinese are online…

Ofcom CMR 2012 - internet as primary news source

That is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on who you are — this early adopter herd is at least a ring-fenced segment of attractive demographics for any internet services looking for customers.

Amongst the most successful so far is Tencent, the diversified giant that ranks #9 on our paidContent 50 list of the world’s highest revenue-earning digital content companies and which this summer told us over 30 million of its then 752 million members were paying 10RMB  ($1.60) per month.

In time, as China’s internet demographic begins to more closely resemble its nation’s — by way of low-cost handsets, for example — I would expect this curiously high proclivity to pay to wane. And content operators may be forced to accept lower fees than they do in other parts of the world.

  1. finding chinese paying for content is like finding openly gay republicans…they exits but are a rare breed that hide from the rest of us….lol

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  2. I live in China and work in the paid content industry. I think the conclusion re China spurious. 1010 participants in a survey in China is not statistically significant. Tencent is getting paid for certain premium communication tools, games, avatars, in-game assets……. sure these constitute paid for content, but I would maintain that the mainstream media types of video, books, music…. are pretty much universally not paid for in China (yet).

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