Robber Barrons, More Like

from the jerky dept

The WSJ’s been slowly pushing itself into online irrelevance for quite some time. It used to be cited as the biggest and best example of a publisher charging for online access to its content, but its increasing fees and its paywall in general, which prevents sharing news have left plenty of people questioning the value they get from a subscription to it. Now, after raising the price of a subscription back in October by $20 (to $99 per year), the WSJ has abruptly cut off access to sister site, which, until last Sunday, was included in the price. As Peter Zollman at Poytner points out, raising the price isn’t the issue — it’s raising it in the middle of people’s subscriptions, something that’s often referred to as a bait and switch. It’s hard to think that things are going very well for the WSJ any more. It does have well-written, valuable content, but that value is relative to its competitors. Offering less content for more money is an easy way to reduce the value, particularly when other publications are eliminating their paywalls and dropping registration requirements. These repeated price hikes, along with weak earnings and reports that it’s driving Marketwatch into the ground, makes it look like Dow Jones’ online strategy is becoming increasingly desperate. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t even come close to attracting the number of inbound links that comparable free mainstream media sites do. Without a doubt, it’s got good content — why not just open things up, rejoin the conversation, let everybody access it, and sell ads on the traffic? Update: A week later, the WSJ says subscribers will be able to access Barron’s until their current subscription expires. Another update: Looks like we spoke too soon. PaidContent spoke to a WSJ exec, who confirms that the change is obnoxiously on a case-by-case basis.

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Comments on “ Robber Barrons, More Like”

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Lucas says:

Short-term versus long-term user bases

The WSJ is making a very reactive mistake. Now, I don’t know what the WSJ’s user base numbers are like (although I doubt their business model attracts many new users). They are trying take their current customers shake them upside down for another $20, instead of removing barriers to their content which would allow them to increase their relevance and presence (as so often pointed out here at Techdirt).

Figure out a way to make money – ads (hopefully not obnoxious ones), reselling content, whatever. Drop the barriers to content and watch the increase in your relevance. And don’t assume that because you’re a ‘respected institution’ that your readers will stick around forever. The few users that are actually paying for content are going to get fed up and go elsewhere eventually.

I wonder… who is paying for the WSJ? Personal users? Corporate libraries? I’d love to have some insight into who their existing users are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Short-term versus long-term user bases

WSJ has 700,000+ paid subscribers. A subscription to the site or paper is $99/year($.27/day), $149/year for both. All things considered, a reasonable price given the content IMO. No, I don’t work for WSJ, DJ, etc., etc.
“The few users that are actually paying for content are going to get fed up and go elsewhere eventually.”
The problem is there is no “elsewhere” with the same comprehensive financial content, which is why subscribers pay. Barring a few exceptions like the NY Times and Wash Post, most major dailies don’t offer the same level of business new coverage.
Mobile Devices? RSS Feeds? News Licensing? Yep, BTDT. Ads? Yes, but not in your face and content appropriate.
“Figure out a way to make money” Their business model is based on paid subscriptions. Yeah, it really is that simple. Seems to be working. Truth is, most major dailies now require registration and increasingly are limiting the scope of free access.

_ says:

user base

I’m part of the user base and will be paying the extra $20 for
Why? Well, first off, my company pays for it. Secondly, people talk about Barrons and the WSJ. If a stock moves on Monday and someone calls and asks me why, I’ll know the answer. I’d rather pay $20 (or $120) than say “um.. I don’t know”
So feel free to argue that the papers are losing relevance to common folk, but as long as the people that manage the money keep reading them then so will I.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: user base

I think Carlo’s point was much more about the problem of changing the subscription fee in mid-subscription, which seems fairly obnoxious, and potentially illegal.

Also, if you actually believe that you need to read those two sources to understand why a particular stock is moving, then it’s hard to believe you’re really in the business of managing people’s money.

malhombre says:

Re: user base

It would be hard to deny that WSJ is one of the preeminent daily financial publications available, with a long and reliable track record and substantial brand recognition.

I am inclined to think that the primary attraction to paying for WSJ content, even slightly reduced content, is the time savings and convenience considerations of having a single, highly reputable source available (some notable screw-ups notwithstanding 😉 for quick reference.

Sure, you can search around and get all or nearly all of the same info from various sources, but I have to think that in the time critical world of financial operations, they still offer a product that will attract a sufficient number of subscribers, both online and traditional.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: user base

It would be hard to deny that WSJ is one of the preeminent daily financial publications available

I don’t think anyone is denying that. Carlo’s post most certainly doesn’t deny that, and agrees with it. The main problem is them changing the subscription mid-stream.

However, the ongoing problem will be that people are interacting with news in different ways these days, and are becoming less and less straight consumers of the news. Being unable to particpate can really hurt a publication — and it’s likely to exact a toll on the WSJ going forward.

Greg Andrew says:

No Subject Given

I pay for a Journal subscription online because there is no free alternative. Frankly, there is no paid alternative either, not for daily business news and analysis.

Now, I don’t care about Barrons; I don’t find anything about it interesting. But I do consider this move unethical and unwise. I don’t know if it’s bait and switch legally, but it sure is ethically.

Bob says:


I normally don’t bother with reading anything from companies that charge for their content. With the myriad of free online news sources, it’s no longer necessary today to pay for content.

I’ve not heard of a single online news source that has been successful in capturing market share by the paid subscription model, unless you have compelling content, which most don’t (and no, a different spin on the same story everyone else is reporting on is not ‘compelling’). That model is a proven failure; these floundering companies need to rethink the model and move on.

Actually I kinda feel sorry for them in a way. Once the bright stars of the online journalism world, these 10 or so hotshots listened to some MBA’s ‘brilliant’ idea (who btw made millions from it and probably now lives in the Bahamas) to charge for their content, feeding off the greed and the need for profitability of these companies. Now it appears many of them lie groveling in the mud today, desperate for any visitor, while their free counterparts thrive. Did these companies even have a clue?

Bill Hoffmann says:


I was about to subscribe online to the WSJ as my wife likes it and reads the paper. Accessing Barrons for myself made it a fair deal. She will cancel the paper for sure.
Now, I will pass and occassionally read my friends edition. That is, if he renews his subscription. Perhaps I’ll subscribe to something else and share it with him.

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