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
    Mike Masnick (profile), 12 Nov 2009 @ 3:30pm

    Re: You won't read the WSJ anymore?

    I - as always - take issue with your subjective labeling of things you like as "smart" as it's kinda smarmy.

    Calling something smart is smarmy? And calling something smarmy is what, then? :)

    It's an opinion, Bob. Nothing smarmy about having an opinion.

    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.

    Are you a subscriber here? No. I have receive no revenue at all from you then. Should I block you from reading Techdirt? That seems pretty dumb to me. There are lots of ways to monetize your presence, even if I'm not getting you to hand me cash directly.

    But those communities are largely of no value to the business of the Wall Street Journal today.

    But they sure will be tomorrow. If you exclude free visitors from the web, yes, you'll hang on to some old folks, but no one from the next generation is going to care or see any value at all in subscribing, especially as every smart competitor rushes in to take up the void by offering free valuable business/investing insight.

    It's a "milk a dying cow" business. I guess maybe it'll pay the bills for the rest of Rupert's life. But the next generation is doomed.

    As a for-profit business, is it better to have 100,000 revenue generating pairs of eyes, or 1,000,000 freeloaders?

    You assume that those "freeloaders" can't be monetized. You're in the news business, aren't you? Do you really need a map on how to monetize "freeloaders"?

    People don't subscribe to Bloomberg and Westlaw so they can giggle in the forums and speculate the universe.

    Nor did anyone suggest otherwise. Not sure why you need the strawman.

    "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.

    Indeed. But part of connecting in the B2B setting is that you have to show better ROI than the other guys. Right now perhaps the WSJ can do that for a lot of people. But it gets harder and harder in the future. Taking yourself out of the wider conversation greatly decreases the value, and if you think users won't notice, you haven't been paying attention lately.

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