Dow Jones Execs Talk Murdoch Out Of Dropping The Paywall

from the short-term-revenue-vs.-long-term-relevance dept

For months there had been a lot of buzz about how Rupert Murdoch was interested in dropping the WSJ's paywall. However, as we noted, execs at Dow Jones were quick to hit back, and said they would convince Murdoch otherwise after the acquisition was completed. It appears that's exactly what's happened. Murdoch today admitted that he's going to keep the WSJ subscription offering and maybe even increase the price. Amusingly, this news is available for free on the WSJ's site. The truth is, it's still not entirely clear what's going to happen to the Journal's website. While Murdoch said there will always be a subscription offering, he also said that more content will be free. It sounds like he's trying to straddle both solutions here, picking the "most valuable" content to remain locked up. Of course, that was the NY Times' strategy -- which failed.

The simple fact is that news reporting content is incredibly difficult to monetize directly anymore -- due to a variety of factors, mostly having to do with the nature of trying to sell content. There are models (even subscription models) that work, but they will be not for the content directly, but for advanced services, such as personalization or analysis. The risk in locking up your best content is that the WSJ will continue to lose relevance, as the next generation of readers won't even bother to sign up, as they won't be able to understand why it's worth paying for this content, no matter how good WSJ execs claim it is.

The next generation of content users have learned something important: it's no longer reasonable to take it on faith that content they don't have access to is good and worth paying for. They need to have access to the content itself, and will figure out for themselves if it's valuable -- and if it is, they'll want to do more with it than just read it. They want to share it, vote on it, discuss it, analyze it and many other things. Locking up the content makes it a lot more difficult and takes away much of the value. Taking away value from consumers isn't exactly a strategy for success these days.


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    illegalprelude, Jan 24th, 2008 @ 1:56pm

    I dont understand that either because to me, there is plenty of choice for free news, why pay for WSJ? I got my GOogle News, I got my RSS feeds, I got CNN and others.

     

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    Pseudonym #3, Jan 24th, 2008 @ 2:09pm

    The WSJ is a fantastic piece of work. I find it more accurate and less biased than other re-interpretations out there.

    Possibly Rupert thinks that the ad revenue could offset the subscription cost. He did well with that concept on MySpace.

     

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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Jan 24th, 2008 @ 3:27pm

    Wow...

    The next generation of content users have learned something important: it's no longer reasonable to take it on faith that content they don't have access to is good and worth paying for. They need to have access to the content itself, and will figure out for themselves if it's valuable -- and if it is, they'll want to do more with it than just read it. They want to share it, vote on it, discuss it, analyze it and many other things. Locking up the content makes it a lot more difficult and takes away much of the value. Taking away value from consumers isn't exactly a strategy for success these days.

    Mike...

    I am generally very impressed with your insights and written communications skills, and this paragraph stands out as probably some of your best work.

    Your work also has a strong ethical undercurrent which hopefully others are picking up on.

     

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    Greg Andrew, Jan 24th, 2008 @ 5:53pm

    First off, I would hesitate to call Times Select a failure. It wasn't a success, either, of course. But it made money. It made more money than the Times had been making from that area at the time the pay wall went up. The Times just decided that conditions had changed enough so that now it could make more money without the pay wall.

    As far as the Journal goes, what people don't understand is that corporations still routinely buy many employees subscriptions. The younger generation's resistance to buying content doesn't matter very much if they aren't the ones choosing to pay for it or not. The WSJ is not aimed at a general audience. It doesn't compete with the NY Times or Washington Post or Chicago Tribune for most of its subscribers. The competition is Investors Business Daily and the Financial Times. The free business sites on the net are not competition because most of the readers of those never would have subscribed to the Journal in the first place. The only free competition the Journal has that is of equal quality is the NY Times' business section, and the Times just doesn't have the capacity to cover the business world anywhere near as thoroughly as the Journal. Since Murdoch bought the paper, I've had concerns that Murdoch, in trying to compete with the Times, might dilute the very things that make the Journal the Journal. The fact that he's not making the Journal site free indicates that he now realizes how dangerous it might be for the Journal to chase new audiences.

    And Murdoch doesn't exactly have to worry about the WSJ not being relevant; he has more than enough media outlets with which to stay relevant. I'm sure the Journal will be making its stuff very visible on the free internet; it just won't be doing so in a way that makes it obvious to corporations that they shouldn't pay for WSJ subscriptions anymore.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2008 @ 11:18pm

      Re: @ Greg Andrew

      I agree with you here. The WSJ doesn't compete, per se, with mainstream newspapers. It's a niche product with only a handful of major competitors - Financial Times is the first one to come to mind.

      The WSJ paper subscriptions have always been more expensive than the mainstream counterparts'. I don't know if this will translate to the web, but it might. For many people the WSJ is the de facto source for business news. Considering that, a paywall could work.

       

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    John, Jan 25th, 2008 @ 8:00am

    WSJ strategies

    If the WSJ's intended audience is business professionals, they should explore a service aimed at corporations instead of individuals. Why not develop a program that could sort relevant WSJ articles into an RSS feed that would be available to employees. Market this to businesses instead of individuals and then open up the WSJ site without a paywall.

     

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    Rudy, Jan 25th, 2008 @ 11:36am

    Very good point

    "...as the next generation of readers won't even bother to sign up, as they won't be able to understand why it's worth paying for this content, no matter how good WSJ execs claim it is."

    I think this is an amazingly good point that I have not seen widely. Paying for content that you do not know anything about is a gamble with no guarantees. After the first time you are paying for content that you can only hope will continue to be good based on the brand.

     

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