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11% of internet users surveyed in the US say they regularly pay for digital content such as newspapers, TV programs, film, e-books, music tracks, and smartphone applications, according to consumer research contained in a new report [pdf] from the UK’s Ofcom. The survey covered at least 1,000 respondents across 9 countries, and found that at least half of the respondents from each country, save for China, say they never pay for any digital content online.

China’s results were indeed quite an outlier. An impressive 52% of respondents there said they at least sometimes pay for digital content online. Another 29% said they rarely do. The US, which had the next-highest incidence of purchase likelihood, saw just 25% of respondents claiming to buy at least sometimes. The researchers suggest that the high rates in China are likely due to higher consumption of digital content and potentially lower availability of free-to-access content.

Taking China out of the picture, it’s interesting to note that respondents in the US were more likely to purchase such content than those in the 7 other markets (the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Australia). That result tallies with recent findings from comScore, which show a surging interest in digital content and subscriptions over the holiday season in the US. According to comScore’s latest figures covering November 1 – December 10, e-commerce spending on digital content and subscriptions has jumped 22% year-over-year, making it the fastest-rising category for the season to date.

Youth’s SocNet Usage High Across the World

The Ofcom report also covers social networking use, finding consistently high numbers across the world’s youth. Looking at the 18-24 group, in most countries between 70% and 80% of respondents said they use their home internet connection to visit social networking sites, though that drops to 54% in China and 53% in Japan. (It was 74% in the US.) There was a clear age-related trend across most countries, with the youngest respondents far more likely than the oldest to visit social networking sites. Interestingly, in China, though, the 45-54 age group was most likely to do so (65%).

A new study from the Pew Global Attitudes Project finds a similar trend. In each of the 21 markets studied by Pew, the 18-29 group was more likely to use social networking than the 50+ set. The widest gaps were in Italy (91% vs. 13%), Poland (82% vs. 8%), and Britain (94% vs. 22%), though the gap was also high in the US (80% vs. 28%). Interestingly, that study found a similar gap among Chinese residents (61% vs. 8%), in apparent contradiction of the Ofcom study results.

The Ofcom report also found a growing percentage of mobile owners accessing social networking sites from their devices. In the US, 40% of mobile owners said they do so, up from 26% last year. That’s consistent with recent research from Nielsen showing rapid growth in mobile social networking. The Pew report, meanwhile, found 60% of US cell owners saying they regularly access social networking sites on their devices. The higher incidence seen by Pew may be due to that sample being limited to cell phone owners who regularly use the internet on their phone.

About the Data: The consumer research undertaken by Ofcom for its report was conducted online with 9,152 consumers in 9 countries: the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the US, Japan, China and Australia.

Results for the Pew survey are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Survey results are based on national samples except in China. There were at least 1,000 respondents in each of the 18 countries save for 3.

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