THE NEW YORK TIMES
Hispanics Are Narrowing The Digital Divide
by Katie Hafner
April 6, 2000
If all the attention paid to the so-called digital divide lately, little of it has been devoted to the topic of Hispanics in the United States and their computer and Internet usage.
A 150-page report released today by Cheskin Research, a market research firm in Redwood Shores, Calif., says that the gap is narrowing for Hispanics and that the rate at which Hispanics in this country are buying computers far outstrips that of the general population.
The Cheskin study, titled "The Digital World of the U.S. Hispanic," was based on a telephone survey of 2,017 Hispanic households in February. The survey found that 42 percent of the nation's 9.3 million Hispanic households had a computer. That represents a 68 percent increase over 1998, compared with a 43 percent increase in computer ownership for the general population.
Economics still plays a large role. The median income for Hispanic households is $28,300, compared with $38,900 for the general population, said Felipe Korzenny, a principal at Cheskin Research and the main author of the study.
According to the Cheskin study, 25 percent of Hispanic households with annual incomes between $10,000 and $20,000 have a computer. Another recent study of the gap between the computer haves and have-nots, conducted by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, showed that in the general population where household income is less than $20,000, 31 percent of households had computers.
"Considering that gap in income, the degree to which the Hispanics are adopting the technology is beyond expectations," Mr. Korzenny said.
Part of the reason for the large increase in computer purchases among Hispanics, Mr. Korzenny said, is "a very strong motivation of not being left behind."
An indication of a group's not wanting to be left behind technologically.
Mr. Korzenny said that although the perception of high cost was still a strong barrier to computer ownership, lack of information about technology was an impediment that loomed just as large.
"The kids get it," said Rochelle Newman, president of Enlace Communications, an advertising firm in Los Angeles that focuses on the Hispanic market. "They see that it will get them to the next level. The kids are the ambassadors for the technology experience."
Ms. Newman said that in all the years she had been marketing to Hispanics, she had not seen anything as strong as Hispanic consumers' interest in being online. In focus groups she has conducted on the topic of health care, she said, "the respondents still don't know what an H.M.O. is, but they do know the Internet could help them find out what an H.M.O. is."
Another problem in the past, Mr. Korzenny said, has been the dearth of Hispanic-oriented Web sites. But now, sites like quepasa.com, Latino.com, (puertorico-herald.org) and Yupi, to name a few, are beginning to appear on the Web.
"It's been interesting watching it develop from a very small group of Hispanic-oriented sites to all the new sites like quepasa.com and Español.com," said Ernest Bromley, president of Bromley Communications, an advertising firm in San Antonio that focuses on the Hispanic market. "Plus there are all the companies coming in from Latin America launching their portals. It's just going crazy."
Surprisingly, however, Mr. Korzenny said, most Hispanic Internet users prefer the Spanish-language versions of Yahoo and America Online to the Hispanic-specific sites. One possible explanation, Mr. Korzenny said, is that the Hispanic sites do not do enough to distinguish themselves from the AOL's of the world. "These sites, though they're very nice, look like replicas of Yahoo, AOL and Netscape Navigator," he said. "The point of differentiation might not be strong enough. My guess is that the Spanish sites have focused on being sophisticated portals without customizing themselves to the culture or the needs of the culture."
Whatever the reason for the greater popularity of the mainstream portals' Hispanic versions, the situation could soon change because Quepasa.com recently began offering free, advertising-supported Internet access through NetZero.
Ms. Newman said the next big challenge was to get computers into more Hispanic households. "There is still the economic divide," she said.
Mr. Korzenny said that one way he saw to increase computer ownership among Hispanics was with innovative sales methods. He pointed to retailers like La Curacao, in Southern California, that have succeeded by going door to door, offering credit to low-income Hispanics with no credit history.
"These are people with relatively low income but they would pay," he said.
"I tell computer executives that if they would partner with these companies and sell computers that way," he added, "they could sell hundreds per day."