It’s all but official: WSJ.com is going free. Rupert Murdoch himself said
as much today, at a Goldman Sachs conference in New York:
“We don’t mind what platform news appears on. We’re platform
neutral: newsprint, your Blackberry, your PC or whatever,” Murdoch said.
He also said that News Corp. was likely to get rid of subscriptions for the
WSJ.com Web site in favor of a free model that would depend on advertising.
Tiernan Ray has Murdoch being slightly
Goldman equity analyst Anthony Noto whether Dow Jones content should be free,
instead of subscription based.
“I don’t know, but that is on the front burner to decide,”
says Murdoch. “If the site is really good, you’d get, internationally,
not one million subscribers, but ten or fifteen million hits per day,”
said Murdoch. “And those are of the most valuable kind of readers in
And Douglas McIntyre is doing
WSJ.com has something along the lines of 2.5 unique visitors. Dow Jones estimates
put that number much higher. If the site were free, it is easy to see that
number racing past NYTimes.com at about 13 million. NYT says all of its online
editions will do close to $400 million this year.
What WSJ.com would give up is 983,000 paid subscribers, most paying about
$80 a year.
Basically, there’s no way that WSJ.com can get to $400 million on a subscription
model: even if only half its revenues came from subscriptions, it would need
well over double the number of paying subscribers that it presently has. Whereas
the advertising model is compelling: WSJ.com ads should sell for significantly
higher CPMs than nytimes.com ads. As Murdoch says, his are the most valuable
readers in the world.
(Related: On my post
about nytimes.com going free, Eric comments that he uses adblock and customizegoogle
to ensure that he has no value at all to advertisers on the websites he visits.
He’s right that if a lot of others followed his lead, that would screw up the
economics of web-based publishing enormously. I doubt that will happen, unless
and until ads become so egregiously obtrusive that we readers are forced into
desperate measures. But any ad which ever covers up the story I’m trying to
read does count, in my book, as egregiously obtrusive, and no respectable publication
should accept such ads.)