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7 Reasons People Pay for Content When They Can Get It for Free

Why people pay for content they can get for free

The internet is bursting with free content.

All you could ever want to watch, read, or listen to is only a click away. And, we all know “a guy” who can get his hands on just about anything.

So it begs the question…

Why would anyone ever pay for content?

Yet:

Up to 65% of people in markets around the world are willing to pay for content they would otherwise get for free. (I should know, I’m one of them!) 

So why do they do it? And why would they be willing to pay for your content?

Well, here are 7 reasons…

1. Because It’s Convenient

People love taking the easy road. 

We want fast food, quick service, and instant access; convenience is King and we’ll pay good money to get it. In fact:

Research shows 44% of people pay for premium content services because it’s convenient. It puts all of the content they want under one roof and reduces the decisions they need to make.

You see…

The problem with free content is that you pay for it with effort. You have to search for it, curate it, and create your own sense of structure with it. It’s more effort than you think.

For example, let’s say you want to learn how to play the guitar. You could go to YouTube and look for all of the guitar lessons:

Guitar lessons YouTube search

But this search returns thousands of results and prompts lots of follow-on questions like:

  • Who do I trust?
  • Is this the right level for me?
  • Should I really be learning this?

These questions create a sense of doubt and require effort, in the form of trial-and-error, to answer. On the other hand…

You could sign up for a service like Elite Guitarist, where they offer fewer, more targeted videos that follow a logical structure:

Elite Guitarist video subscription homepage

It’s convenient because it frees you of the worry about what you should be learning next. You log in, follow the next tutorial, then go away and practice for a while. It’s so much simpler.

Elite Guitarist video subscription catalog

This is one of the reasons we’ve worked hard to create a comprehensive catalog feature for our Uscreen customers. It lets you make your content even more convenient by adding…

  • tags
  • categories 
  • difficulty levels
  • target audiences

…so your customers can find exactly what they want and access it when they need it.

2. Because It’s Cost-Effective

Paid content provides a lot of value for money.

Research shows that 30% of people view paid content as cost-effective or cheap. And, it makes sense why.

When we looked at the ideal number of videos on a platform, we found that users receive anywhere from 4 to 88 hours on content, depending on the niche:

Hourly streaming content catalog guide per industry chart

When you consider that the average price of a subscription is about $15, that’s up to 5 hours of content per $1 spent! That’s a lot of value for money.

Now, you might be thinking, “That’s all well and good James, but don’t people get far more content for free?” Well, yes and no!

It’s true that there is an infinite amount of free content online. 500 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded every single day! And, that’s before you look at illegal streaming sites.

But people pay for this content in other ways. What’s the cost of:

  • getting caught illegally downloading a film?
  • risking your security on a suspect third-party website?
  • the time wasted searching the depths of YouTube?
  • fighting against pop-up ads to watch a low-quality stream?

When you pay for content, you get exactly the content you want, without the effort or risk. 

To give a personal example…

I’m British, but I love the NFL. I even used to play American Football for a while:

James playing American football

As a broke twentysomething, I used to go onto sports websites and find streams of Los Angeles Chargers games. 

I’d spend hours refreshing the screen, closing pop-up ads, and jumping between sites whenever a stream eventually got shut down. There was also the mandatory post-game virus scan.


It was a frustrating process that spoiled my experience of watching games.

When I finally got sick of it, I invested in $125 into NFL Game Pass. It allowed me to (legally) stream as many games as I wanted, and even access bonus content.

It’s been worth every penny and I’ve never looked back!

3. Because It Removes Any Guesswork

When people look for your content it’s typically because they want to improve. They want to be smarter, fitter, or more creative; to transform from who they are now, into a better version.

The problem is…

They don’t know how to make that transformation happen. Free content typically only hints at how they can do it, rarely providing the full picture.

Let’s say you’re a tattoo artist and you want to learn how to create a peony for a new client. You could go to YouTube and try to piece together a tutorial from all the videos online:

Tattoo tutorial YouTube search

This is hard work and you may not know what steps you’ve missed in the process.

Or…

You could go to InkWorkshops and take their 10-hour Peony Masterclass and ensure you’re getting all the information you need:

Ink Workshops video subscription homepage

You would also feel comfortable knowing that you’re…

  • learning from real industry professionals
  • able to interact with instructors
  • going to have lifetime access to the materials

…which is priceless value on top of the course fee.

And, we’re not just speculating that people will pay for this type of content!

When we looked at our internal data, we also found that a whopping 81% of our customers’ customers are signed up for e-learning or fitness platforms. So, the paying market is there.

4. Because It’s A Familiar Part Of The Online World

Paying for content has become the new normal.

Consumers are actively seeking out platforms where they can pay to access content. Why?

Well, a lot of it has to do with reducing overwhelm. 

Content shock – the feeling you get when there’s too much to watch, and not enough time to watch it – has become a real problem, affecting people’s mental health.

As such, consumers want a way to take control, and filter out the good from the bad!

90% of Generation Z, for example, is willing to pay for access to online content for this very reason. And, in a post-COVID-19 world, this is creeping into older generations.

26% more people have been exposed to paying for subscription content, and 100% of them have said they would be willing to invest more in similar services.

We can also see this happening with other types of content…

Bloggers, like Mark Manson, have begun putting their best pieces behind paywalls:

Mark Manson blogger paywall

It’s no longer weird if you pay for content on the internet. If anything, it’s weird if you don’t! 

5. Because People Don’t Value Free Content

Human nature is strange.

If you give a person something for free, they’ll get all excited. They just can’t believe their luck!


But a couple of hours later, that feeling is gone. The euphoria of getting free access subsides and now they’re looking for their next endorphin rush.

However…

If you work hard, save up for something, and finally have enough to buy it you value it far more! 

Ramit Sethi, an online entrepreneur, observed this a few years ago. When he launched his $2000 course, Zero To Launch, he received lots of requests from friends for free access.

So, being a good friend, he gave it to them. But to his surprise, none of them ever finished the course! In fact, most of them never even opened the first module.

Why?

Because people value what they pay for.

Someone who pays $15 a month to access your content is going to get more value and use from your product – as well as better results! – then someone who gets it for free.

This is what’s known as the sunk cost fallacy. People who pay for things are likely to use them to get their money’s worth, as opposed to wasting what they’ve spent.

That’s why so many of our customers, like Yoga with Adriene, put their free YouTube content behind a paywall: 

Yoga with Adriene YouTube vs SVOD content comparison

Because they know people who use their paid service will get more benefit from those people who find it for free.

6. Because They Can Support Their Favorite Communities

Paying for content can mean entry into a community.

It allows you to interact with other like-minded people who care about the same topics, ideas, or content as you do.

It’s the same reason why people:

  • support their favorite creators on Patreon
  • subscribe to watch their favorite Twitch streams
  • pay for Reddit Coins
  • join paid industry forums like Stack Overflow

…because it allows them to feel like they’re part of a community; one they can support and contribute to.

Sarah Beth, the owner of Sarah Beth Yoga, found having a paid online community transformed her business. People wanted to pay to join it, and the feedback speaks for itself:

SarahBethYoga user Facebook feedback review

You can read more about how memberships can improve your content by reading our guide to why you should start a membership site.

7. Because Who Wants To Watch Ads?

Once a month I get a notification to say I’ve paid $9.99 to Spotify.

It is one of the best investments I make. Why?

Because when I’m at a red light belting out Summer of ‘69 like my car is the main stage at Glastonbury, I don’t want my euphoria to be followed by an ad for Spotify Premium.


I want to enjoy music seamlessly, without ads. I feel the same way about movies, television shows, and all of the e-learning content I consume. This is my time, away from ads.

There’s every chance you’re like me. And, there’s evidence to suggest your potential customers are too. 

Free content always comes at the cost of watching ads. Studies show 8.5% of Americans will pay for content to avoid them. This jumps to 38% for households earning over $50,000! 

Willingness to pay for content per household income chart

This means there’s a potential market – especially among high-earners – who would be willing to invest in your paid content to avoid advertisements altogether.

I mean, don’t you already do the same? 

Wrapping This Up…

The internet is full of free content. But, for many, it’s too full.

They’re willing to pay for content to improve their experience, filter the good from the bad, and join communities they care about.

But now I want to know…

What content do you pay for that you could technically get free elsewhere? Let me know in the comments! You might even find a few more reasons your customers will pay for content too.

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