The way that the British read news online appears likely to change greatly over the coming years. As The Times and The Sunday Times prepare to charge readers for the online editions of their newspapers, the titles point to growing evidence that Britain is more willing to spend money online than almost any other nation.
It is argued that, with news sites now accounting for 3 per cent of the time that we spend online, charging for content represents a natural step for the press and publishing industry.
Nearly 16 million people in Britain visited a mainstream newspaper website in February. Figures from the market researchers UKOM/Nielsen show that a quarter of those users have already paid to access news online or would be willing to do so. A third even said that they would be willing to pay for web content that they had already paid for offline, if it was substantially better than what was on offer free.
As is the case in the music industry, the move toward paid-for services reflects the rapid increase in the time that we spend online and the content we now consume.
Alex Burmaster, an analyst with Nielsen, said that only a few years ago the thought of buying holidays or clothes online was anathema to most people. The rapid increase over recent years in the availability of broadband, however, has combined with an improvement in the quality of online products and services to create a “perfect storm”, whereby people have become dependent on the internet.
The introduction of the iPad this week could do to publishing what the iPod did to music and transfer another part of our lives online. The ability to refresh newspaper pages while on the move could capture the imagination of a British public that has already proved more open to online services than in other countries. Very few nations spend more time online than Britain.
“It’s permeated everything we do. There’s no part of daily life that hasn’t changed,” Mr Burmaster said.
British internet users are also more likely to spend money online, with usage of large online retailers such as Tesco.com and Amazon up nearly 50 per cent over the past three years.
That British internet users are spending an increasing amount of time and money online is thanks to the massive increase in the availability of high-speed broadband in the past decade.
Only six years ago Britain was something of a broadband laggard in global terms, but the country has quickly caught up, and overtaken, other countries. Yet the big concern for Britain’s increasingly digital population is that of being left behind. A survey by Ookia suggests that British networks are already straining under the pressure of increased internet usage. It ranks Britain’s broadband speeds as only the 33rd fastest in the world.
BT has just started work on the country’s new network and expects to have connected two thirds of the population to superfast broadband by 2015. However, it is mostly doing no more than plugging the new network into the local exchange, as opposed to directly into the customer’s house, meaning that the speed available will still be a fraction of that in countries such as South Korea and Japan.