OLD Media Moves

Not clear why WSJ.com should become free site

September 24, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

Fortune’s Richard Siklos writes Monday that it’s unclear why The Wall Street Journal would want to make its Web site free despite what new owner News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has intimated.

Murdoch and WSJ.comSiklos wrote, “For one thing, more of the site than you might think is already free to the public (and if you visit it without signing in you are nudged with offers to take out a subscription which can be bought at a hugely discounted rate of $79 for print or online and $99 for both). By knowing exactly who is reading it, the Journal in theory is commanding premium ad rates in the highly competitive financial news category. Secondly, the company already has a free business information site, Marketwatch.com, for which it paid more than $400 million two years ago precisely to serve a mainly consumer/investor audience versus the Journal’s primarily professional readers.

“Thus it is not clear that a free WSJ.com will immediately get the huge boost in traffic that Murdoch ultimately envisions. Making a free WSJ.com succeed, then, really depends on Murdoch’s even more ambitious master plan: to widen the reach of the Journal by making it both more mainstream and global – and to integrate it with the video capability of the Fox Business Network channel he is launching next month in the U.S. Both, needless, to say, are daunting cultural and organizational undertakings.

“On the second question of whether a free Journal site will cannibalize paid circulation in print, the answer appears, for now, to be much more clearly in favor of dropping the pay wall. Sure, some people will decide to stop paying in print for something they get for free online; in the case of The New York Times (my former employer), print circulation has continued to grow despite the paper also having the most-visited newspaper website.”

Read more here.

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