Digitally Divided

Newly developed countries favor new media, but Western nations still buy more

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How much are you willing to spend to be entertained and informed? If you live in Norway, quite a lot. In 2008, Norwegians spent US $1522 per capita on media and Internet access, according to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. On the other hand, the average Chinese person spent about as much that year ($38) as a Norwegian did in nine days. (To be sure, China’s 2008 per capita GDP was just about one-tenth Norway’s; the gap in disposable-income spending is presumably narrower.)

When it comes to traditional media—including newspapers, magazines, books, movies, television, video games, and CDs—the top 15 countries in per capita spending are all in North America and Western Europe; the leading non-Western country is Japan, in 16th place. Elsewhere, consumers may be turning more to the Internet for their entertainment. Japan ranks second in per capita spending on Internet access, South Korea fourth, and Singapore tenth; the average Czech spends more on Internet access ($141) than does the average American ($133).

Sources: PricewaterhouseCoopers, “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2009–2013”; U.S. Census International Data Base
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Westerners spend at least three times as much on traditional media as on Internet access. In non-Western countries, a ratio of less than 2:1 is not uncommon. In Vietnam and Pakistan, consumer spending for Internet access actually exceeds purchases of traditional media. (It’s worth remembering that a DVD of the same movie, for example, can cost far less in some countries than others.)

Who spends the most per capita on recorded music? That would be the Japanese. For magazines, the leader is Finland, followed closely by Greece and Switzerland. The Irish spend the most on video games. In most other categories Norway leads. Partly, that’s due to its high cost of living. But they also seem to love media—especially books, at $240 per year per person. Must be those long winter nights!

This article originally appeared in print as "Old and New Media".

About the Author

DANA MACKENZIE taught college mathematics for 13 years before deciding that his true calling was journalism. He's now a mathematician and sci-tech writer living in Santa Cruz, Calif.

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