The success of the music industry's experiment with paid-for music downloads looks to be good news for web publishers as consumers warm to online spending.

Apple's portable digital music player iPod became the must-have Christmas gift for 2003 with two million sold so far. Users can buy songs for 99 cents each at Apple's iTunes online music store; 25 million songs have been sold in just nine months.

Richard Withey, global director of UK broadsheet and online publisher Independent News & Media, told dotJournalism that there has been a sea change in the acceptance of paid content services.

"Apple has had great success, but there is a huge growth in online access generally," he said.

"New people are coming online with that confidence and are buying at sites like eBay."

The Independent launched its portfolio service in April 2003, providing premium content such as news, sport, crosswords and articles by specialist correspondent Robert Fisk.

Paid content ranges from £1 for pay-as-you go access to £60 for an annual subscription to all areas, but ease of access is essential to encourage take up of these services, according to Mr Withey.

"Even minor barriers - such as pre-payment or registration - can put people off," he said.

"The beauty of BT's click and buy scheme is that you can buy anything you see and just add the cost to your phone bill."

A spokesperson for Apple would not disclose details of its micropayment system, but instead stated that the introduction of Windows-compatible iTunes software had increased the size of the potential total market and contributed to increased sales.

"I don't think the impact of Apple's success, or any individual retailer, should be over-estimated," said Alex Daley, head of the UK Association of Online Publishers (AOP).

"Web publishers' success in introducing paid content solutions is more because of an increasing awareness among consumers that high-quality content can be found online and that it isn't necessarily free."

Paid content revenue models are becoming increasingly popular among AOP members, said Ms Daley. The most recent research by the organisation showed that display advertising accounts for around 43 per cent of revenue for web publishers, but paid services now account for around 19 per cent.

"With the advertising downturn of the past few years, web publishers began to find alternative ways of generating revenue," she said.

"Now that ad revenue is on the up again, publishers will win on both counts."

Richard Withey will be speaking at the AOP interactive forum on paid content to be held in London on 29 January.

See also:

Richard Withey profile:

AOP event:

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).