Will Murdoch Kill The One Smart Part Of The WSJ's Paywall?

from the sounds-like-it dept

With Rupert Murdoch's recent talk about removing his sites from Google, some said that if you understood his comments in context, he was really talking more about copying the WSJ's "leaky" paywall strategy -- which lets users see full articles if they visit via Google. Of course, in that very interview, he appeared to not know how that leaky paywall works, claiming that it took people to a landing page with a couple of paragraphs rather than the full story. That's not true. It does that if you're linked from most other sites. But people who come via Google (or, I believe, Digg) get the full story automatically. The idea, from SEO experts, was to actually help Google drive more traffic.

Of course, that was before Murdoch suddenly decided that all this free promotion was "parasiting" his works (despite the fact that many of his own properties do the same thing. However, it looks like News Corp. may actually be considering ending the "leaky" part of its paywall, with the company's COO, Chase Carey, saying that the idea makes no sense:
"I don't think it makes sense... We don't want people going though a backdoor, or other channels..."
And now we learn how little the folks at News Corp. seem to understand the internet and the fundamental way that people want to interact with news these days. It's not just about sitting and receiving the end product. It's about being a part of the process -- and that includes sharing and spreading the news -- for free -- to others. Mark Cuban thinks (incorrectly, in my opinion) that Murdoch understands the value of people passing around links, which is why he says he wants to opt-out of Google (because search traffic isn't as valuable as traffic from Twitter or Facebook). But locking up all that content actually harms that viral-link value. People aren't going to share or spread a link if they know others can't use it. For years, for example, we've used those "backdoors" (i.e., Google News) which Carey bemoans to read stories in the WSJ that we post here. If they stop allowing that, then I won't read the WSJ any more, and the community of readers and commenters here will never hear from the WSJ again. It's difficult to see how that's a better option.

Amusingly, the first time that we ever wrote about this growing concept that people today want to "spread the news" and "share the news" more than they just want to receive the news was about five years ago -- before the WSJ had put up its leaky paywall. The point of that post was to note just how far the WSJ had fallen out of the conversation on news media -- since no one could send around a link to discuss things. Putting those "backdoors" into the paywall, at the very least, brought the WSJ somewhat back into the conversation. Blocking it now would make the Journal irrelevant again. It's difficult to see how that's a smart strategy at all.

Filed Under: backdoors, chase carey, paywalls, rupert murdoch, share the news, spread the news, wsj
Companies: news corp.


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  1. icon
    BobinBaltimore (profile), 12 Nov 2009 @ 3:13pm

    You won't read the WSJ anymore?

    Mike, I get your points above and agree that this needs more consideration. I - as always - take issue with your subjective labeling of things you like as "smart" as it's kinda smarmy.

    That said, you make the comment above "If they stop allowing that [free access to expensive content], then I won't read the WSJ any more..." And to that I say, "so?" Assuming you are not a subscriber today, you are of little to no revenue value to WSJ today. You not coming to the site means nothing to the WSJ. The inconvenient truth is that online ad revenue is peanuts and Murdoch is right: advertisers don't want to pay for fleeting eyes. Your further comment that "and the community of readers and commenters here will never hear from the WSJ again." is true to some degree...some communities (namely those who don't subscribe and represent little to no revenue value to WSJ) will self-exclude, true. But those communities are largely of no value to the business of the Wall Street Journal today. For some businesses that might be suicide. For the WSJ, I doubt it. It thrives on unique and uniquely targeted content (not information, which is ubiquitous, but content) for predominantly business-oriented readers. In this regard, it is more akin to a B2B publication than most newspapers out there, even the biggies.

    I agree that limiting the near revenueless eyes hitting the pages will likely result in a loss of prestige, if not carefully managed, but this is not the same as loss of revenue. As a for-profit business, is it better to have 100,000 revenue generating pairs of eyes, or 1,000,000 freeloaders? It differs business to business, but the tendency is probably toward the former, not the latter. THIS is the challenge of print to digital migration.

    I know that you and TechDirt spend a lot of time talking about everyone "embracing" everything and "connecting" all too often in very nebulous, warm and fuzzy paragraphs. I'll shock you by saying that I AGREE that those strategies are useful, even very useful in consumer markets especially where fandom is a big factor in the purchase decision. But connecting in a more B2B context is often (not always) a different beast. People don't subscribe to Bloomberg and Westlaw so they can giggle in the forums and speculate the universe. "Connecting" in the B2B context is being relevant, useful and constructive toward the business at hand. WSJ is, in my opinion, more along those lines, than fan-based consumerism.

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