USC Study: Zero Percent Of Americans Would Pay For Twitter

2010 USC Annenberg Digital Future Study  Finds Strong Negative Reaction to Paying for Online Services

Millions of Americans use Twitter — just don’t ask any of them to pay for it. The annual study of the impact of the Internet on Americans by the Center for the Digital Future found that 49 percent of Internet users said they have used free micro-blogs such as Twitter.

But when asked if they would be willing to pay for Twitter, zero percent said yes.

“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.”

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.”

The responses about Twitter and Web advertising are among the more than 180 issues explored in the 2010 Digital Future Project, which is marking its 10th year of exploring the digital realm — the longest continuing study of its kind and the first to develop a longitudinal survey of the views and behavior of Internet users and non-users.

Americans on the Internet
The current study reveals a profile of American Internet users who go online more than ever, almost two-thirds who buy online, most households now using 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.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • For the first time, the Internet is used by more than 80 percent of Americans — now 82 percent.
  • Weekly hours online — The average time online has now reached 19 hours per week. Although more than two-thirds of Americans have gone online for a decade, the largest year-to-year increases in weekly online use have been reported in the two most recent Digital Future studies.
  • Gaps in Internet use in age groups — Not surprisingly, Internet use continues to increase as age decreases, with 100 percent of those under age 24 going online. However, a surprisingly high percentage of Americans between 36 and 55 are not Internet users: among respondents age 46 to 55, 19 percent are non-users; among those 36 to 45, 15 percent are non-users.
  • Low adoption of new media — Although new media is used by large percentages of Internet users age 24 and under, overall large percentages of Internet users never go online to do instant messaging (50 percent), work on a blog (79 percent), participate in chat rooms (80 percent), or make or receive phone calls (85 percent).
  •  Does technology make the world a better place — 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.
  • Internet and Political Campaigns — although more than 70 percent of users agree that the Internet is important for political campaigns, only 27 percent of users said that by using the Internet public officials will care more about what people think, and 29 percent said that the Internet can give people more of a say in what government does.
  • Buying online — 65 percent of adult Internet users buy online (the same as in 2008), and make an average of 35.2 purchases per year (up from 34.1 per year in 2008).
  • Internet impact on traditional retail declines — 61 percent of Internet users said that online purchasing has reduced their buying in traditional retail stores — down from 69 percent in 2008.
  • Top 10 online purchases — 59 percent of Internet users said they purchase books or clothes online, followed by gifts (55 percent), travel (53 percent), electronics/appliances (47 percent), videos (46 percent), computers or peripherals (41 percent), software or games (40 percent), CDs (40 percent), and products for hobbies (38 percent).

There are a number of other key areas identified and researched by the study, including political campaigns, sources of news, trust in technology and its impact on quality of life. For highlights of the 2010 Digital Future Project or to order a copy of the complete report, visit