Online Industries That Generate Insane Revenues

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In 1993, the internet became publicly available and comprised about 130 websites. At first, many thought it was a passing trend that would quickly disappear. Needless to say, those that thought that were incredibly wrong, and by early 1996 there were more than 100,000 sites. 

And as of April 2023, 5.18 billion people internationally actively used the internet. These users account for around 64.35% of the world’s entire population. China is the highest internet user—with roughly 1.05 billion people using the internet.

With the explosive and continuous growth of the world wide web, it is no surprise that some industries have sprung up that never existed before. These industries operate solely online and are responsible for jaw-dropping revenues each year. 

Below, we’ll delve into the biggest of these industries and look at the incredible amounts of cash they are responsible for generating. 

E-Commerce

Unsurprisingly, e-commerce is at the top of the list. Although the origins of e-commerce date back to 1979, at the time, it was done through televisions and telephones. Customers would see something they want to purchase on the TV and call in their order. 

While not nearly as convenient as today, it was a massive step forward in shopping. The simple act of calling in your order meant you didn’t have to leave your house to make a purchase—something almost everyone takes for granted nowadays. 

With 218.8 million people in the US alone shopping online so far in 2023, it is clear how much the convenience of online shopping is appreciated. Growth in companies like Amazon is due solely to the masses who actively use their services to get things quickly.

Thanks to the millions of daily shoppers, e-commerce industry revenue grew from $398.85 billion in 2017 to $819.13 billion at the end of 2022. This growth is expected to continue, with estimates putting the industry’s revenue at $1.45 trillion by 2027.

Gambling

While gambling had a troubled past in the US and is still banned in some countries today, its legalization (at least in some states) in 1931 changed everything. People could finally enjoy the recreational activity while having a chance to win big prizes.

When the internet launched publicly in April 1993, gamblers still needed to rely on brick-and-mortar casinos to enjoy their pastime. This was short-lived, however, as the first-ever online casino was launched just one year later, in 1994.

Since then, hundreds, if not thousands, of online casinos have appeared. Millions of people daily search for gambling platforms that have launched recently or log onto their trusted existing player accounts. 

With around 60% of adults in the US gambling in the last year, the industry has a massive pool of people to market its services to. These people add to the more than $9.5 billion in revenue that the industry generated in 2021. Estimates show this will grow by 17% yearly for the next few years. 

Advertising

While businesses used to rely on people seeing their ad on a billboard, in a newspaper, on the TV, or hearing it on the radio, that is no longer the case. Today, businesses can advertise directly to key markets they have identified to maximize their effectiveness and profits. 

Dating back to 1995, targeting advertising was quickly developed to help businesses, brands, and people use the internet. WebConnect—an advertising agency—began tracking who visited what websites and what they were interested in.

Using this information, they started placing particular ads on these websites that they knew their visitors would click on. From there, they would be directed to another site they were likelier to engage with. 

This simple concept has spurned a multi-billion industry. By 2000, just seven years after the public logged online for the first time, the industry generated $8.09 billion in revenue. By 2022, the revenue grew to $209.7 billion.

Social Media

Offering profile pages and friends lists, Six Degrees is thought to be the first-ever social media platform. It was founded in 1997 after being in development for over a year. By the time it was sold in 2000, the site already had over 3.5 million users. 

Today, a user base of that number is laughable. Launching in 2004, Facebook is the largest social media platform in history, with almost three billion active monthly users—nearly 37% of the planet’s population. 

With so many people sharing their lives online, social platforms were quickly identified as a prime place for advertising. In the US alone, this has led to over 200 million businesses advertising on platforms like Instagram (also owned by Facebook parent Meta).

A 2022 study found that 80% of people seeing ads on Instagram purchased what they saw. Thanks to this advertising and other income streams, social media generated a revenue of $36.14 billion as of 2019, growing to $81.8 billion in 2022.

Entertainment

Whether you’re listening to your favorite artist on Spotify or Apple Music or streaming the latest shows on platforms like Netflix, Disney+, or Amazon Prime Video, there is no shortage of entertainment options available online. Founded in 2005, YouTube is said to be the first of this extensive list of entertainment websites.

As of 2023, 78% of all American households subscribe to at least one entertainment streaming service—with many having more than one subscription. These vary from music to video streaming and can even include game pass subscriptions. 

With many subscribers logging on to watch or listen to their chosen entertainment, the industry is constantly at work to keep up with the demand for great content. Thankfully, the massive revenue generated by the industry can accommodate this. 

In 2023, digital media (streaming) services in the US accounted for around $169.9 billion in revenue. While music accounted for $14.2 billion, the majority was thanks to VOD (video on demand) services. This number is expected to grow as more people register for multiple subscriptions. 

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