by Timothy Lee
Tue, Nov 13th 2007 11:22pm
For months, we've been reporting on rumors that Rupert Murdoch is thinking about dropping the Wall Street Journal's paywall in the hopes of dramatically expanding the paper's readership. This week we've had the first direct confirmation of Murdoch's plans when he predicted at a shareholder meeting that dropping the Journal's paywall would expand the paper's online readership from a million readers to 10 or 15 million. But Dow Jones executive Michael Rooney rushed to pour cold water on Murdoch's comments, insisting that they would need to wait until after the sale closed before any decisions were made. He said he wanted to figure out how much revenue Dow Jones would lose before deciding whether to drop the paywall. Frankly, I think it's a good thing Murdoch will soon be in charge of the paper. Short-term revenues are far less important than the paper's long-term influence and visibility. Murdoch understands that continuing the paywall would virtually guarantee continued readership stagnation by keeping the Journal out of the online conversation. That would leave a huge opening for one of the Journal's competitors to establish itself as the leading online business news outlet. That's a far bigger threat to the paper's financial health than a short-term loss of subscription revenue. Murdoch has a long history of being willing to take temporary financial hits to build up successful and ultimately profitable media properties, and that shrewd business sense looks set to continue with his acquisition of Dow Jones.
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