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More Americans cough up cash online

Web users in the United States are warming up to paying for content, according to a new study, which shows a 155 percent increase in consumer spending on Internet services over last year.

Americans are warming up to paying for content on the Web, according to a study released on Thursday.

The study, conducted by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and Web measurement company ComScore Networks, showed that U.S. consumers spent $300 million to access Web content in the first quarter of this year. That's a 155 percent increase from the same period a year ago. During the 2002 quarter, 12.4 million U.S. consumers opened their wallets for content, up from 5.3 million last year.

On a yearly basis, spending for online content in 2001 increased 92 percent to $675 million from 2000.

The OPA interpreted the results as proof that consumers are willing to pay for content, whether in the form of streamed video, baseball audio feeds, online personals or premium news.

"As content providers get smarter about creating valuable for-pay offerings, an increasing number of consumers are responding with their wallets," Michael Zimbalist, executive director of the OPA, said in a statement.

The results come as little surprise, given the industrywide trend among Web sites to begin charging for certain services. Web giants such as Yahoo, RealNetworks and MSN have introduced services that require subscribers to pay a periodic fee. The trend began as an attempt for sites to fill in gaping revenue holes left by the collapse in online advertising.

Companies such as Yahoo and RealNetworks have particularly focused on diversifying revenue through paid services. Yahoo said during its second-quarter earnings announcement that it now has 1 million customers who pay for services on the site. RealNetworks this month said it has 750,000 subscribers, most of whom pay for the company's RealOne service, which streams audio and video from providers such as ABCNews.com, Major League Baseball and CNN.