05/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Do We Pay for Stuff on Our Phones, But Not Our Computers?

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When we look at the discussion happening around monetizing content on the web, payment models from the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports and Apple's iTunes are the successes that are most often held aloft as potential saviors for an entire industry of producers. But no one seems to be talking about the quiet successes of cellphone providers and mobile content creators. Consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to download everything from games to ringtones and often for a price, yet no one seems to be complaining about not being able to get them for free. Why is this?

Long before the Internet provided a go-to source of up to the minute information from weather to sports scores, the phone companies offered these services and simply charged us for them. Unknowingly perhaps, they were conditioning us to accept the notion of pay-for premiums, but more importantly, they also made it easy. These kinds of transactions required no additional steps to complete -- the extra charges simply showed up on our next bill -- meaning no deterrent to use and no time to think about whether or not this was a worthwhile way to spend our money. The in-home impulse purchase was born. And the same is true today, except there's a whole lot more that we can buy and now we can do it from anywhere.

While the ease of transaction (a one time credit card entry or an add-on to the bill) has lowered the obstacles to buying, this still doesn't explain why the same services that people expect to get for free when they're sitting at their computers, they'll willing to pay for when they're on their phones.

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