OLD Media Moves

The decision to charge for online business news at the WSJ

September 25, 2009

Peter Kann, the former CEO of Dow Jones & Co., the parent of The Wall Street Journal, writes for Saturday’s paper about why the company decided to charge for online access when other newspapers were giving their content away for free.

Kann writes, “Allow me to explain: As a predominantly business newspaper the Journal’s content was distinctive and very largely unduplicated. That content arguably had a much higher degree of essentiality to customers than general news or entertainment. And while the Internet was a new medium, Dow Jones had generations of experience at electronic delivery of news through newswires and news retrieval businesses. So the brave world did not seem so entirely new.

“More important than any of that, however, was a tradition and culture that always had placed high value on news and that always had expected customers to pay full and fair value for news however, whenever or wherever it was delivered. So the decision to charge for an online edition was less courageous than it was consistent. Why should we give all our valuable content and more away for free in some new distribution channel while charging several hundred dollars a year for it in another? The only rational response was not to do so. The result is that the Journal has two successful paid editions, print and online, for sale separately or together. And others in the industry who once scoffed at such a quaint business model now seem envious.

“Suppose back when online editions were first launched that several other leading newspapers had made the same decision. Yes, the Journal was different, but it wasn’t the only publication with quality content, unique strengths and a strong journalistic tradition. Perhaps the New York Times, the Washington Post and one or two others. A precedent would have been set by the industry leaders, a trend would have begun, and an industry inhabited largely by lemmings would have followed the leaders down a perhaps risky but at least rational route rather than following them over a cliff.”

Read more here.

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