WSJ: Free or Paid? (Yes)

Early 2006, I gave some unsolicited advice to the WSJ about their blogging efforts (WSJ Joins the Blogging Crowd). That was well received, and eventually, I did some (unpaid) consulting for about blogging, as well as other mainstream financial publications. Good will and all that.

Often, the advice I give is initially ignored, and then, slowly and reluctantly, adopted.

Since then, Rupert Murdoch took over Dow Jones, and there have been further discussions about whether or not should be subscription only or free.

Let me repeat the suggestion I made so long ago: Move the WSJ/Dow Jones archives out from behind the subscription-only firewall. Keep the most recent WSJ subscription only — perhaps 30 days, but certianly no more than 90 days maximum.

I cannot see why would want to give up ~$65 million dollars per year in annual revenue. But we know that freeing the archives means that the Google bots will be spidering this content, and eventually identifying WSJ pages as search results. Dow Jones advertisers will be seeing their ads served more often, and the additional click thrus and page views will only accrue more revenue to DJ.

To overcome corporate resistance, start at 90 days, then go to 60, 30, with my ideal goal would be to get the Journal’s sub-only content to 30 days, and eventually, just 7 days. The MBAs may choke over this, but by doing it gradually, it will allow the traffic, advertising and subscription data to be reviewed. (it also has the added benefit of allowing their little MBA pea brains to adapt to the concept slowly).

The freshest content goes to the users willing to pay for it — highest value consumers — while the rest of the content generates advertising revenues.

That solution can be easily implemented by the technology folks
at the Journal, increasing revenue for Dow Jones, yet maintain that fat
subscription revenue.


You read it here first.


UPDATE: October 19, 2007  10:04am


Murdoch says will probably scrap subscriptions




WSJ Joins the Blogging Crowd

Murdoch’s Choice: Paid or Free for
WSJ, September 19, 2007; Page B1

MSM Blogging Review: NYT Starts Blogging too

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Prince of Thrift commented on Oct 3

    I have a different thought. When I go to the Tribunes (Chicago) webpage, I get the freshest content free but after I think 7 days and moves to the archives, it becomes fee based if I want to see the complete story.

  2. 12th percentile commented on Oct 3

    I was involved in a proposal or three for WSJ online. That amount of content could work wonders with search engines. That was years ago but I see they still are behind a wall. After years of working with MBAs, I can tell you that the MBA’s working in brand marketing for Fortune 500s have very little knowledge of the internet. However, that is also the fault of their managers. Tie their bonus to increasing web traffic and i’m sure they’d “get smart about the net” quick fast in a hurry.

    On a similar note i was involved with a large well known consumer magazine that was interested in increasing their search engine traffic. The simplest answer for businesses like this is to get your archives on the web in a form that search engines can easily index/read. Imagine putting the archives of something like Time Magazine on line and how much rich content that would be? Something like that will drive a lot of traffic as this company discovered when they made their archives available for one of their other properties. Throw up some google ads and you are in the money. Content is king.

    Interestingly, apparently if you are “digitizing” 40 years of your old print mags for use on the web, that also is done in India.

  3. wally commented on Oct 3

    I disagree. I think that, long term, for-pay sites are doomed. There are too many ways now to get as good – or better – information. WSJ should get out front; they should not just be free but should try to get the content scope that it take to become the ‘home page’ presence in the financial world that Yahoo is in the general world. That is where real wealth building lies in the future. Currently, financial info sites are too fragmented; nobody has yet aggregated the right mix. If not WSJ, then somebody else will get there first and it will be too late for the others.

  4. Amos Newcombe commented on Oct 3

    There’s a graph that cries out for a logarithmic scale.

  5. shrek commented on Oct 3

    They need to improve there content.

  6. The Financial Philosopher commented on Oct 3

    How many bloggers would reference WSJ articles if the content were free? Personally, I would link to WSJ articles if I knew my readers could open the link and be able to read the entire piece without getting the “hand in the face” page that says content is for “subscribers only.”

    For that reason alone, I try to find quality content elsewhere, which is not difficult to do. If I reference a WSJ article, I’ll simply quote from it (but not link to it).

    I agree with Barry, WSJ is missing out on some ad revenue and, if they do it wisely, they can “have their cake and eat it, too.”

  7. Felix commented on Oct 3

    Well, you know what I think. Murdoch isn’t a bean-counter with an MBA, he thinks big — and you should too. WSJ should and will go entirely free.

  8. DavidB commented on Oct 3

    7 day old stuff would be great if you are researching a company. Then, if you wanted the most up to date information you could either buy it on the individual company in a package or buy a subscription. I think web companies need to look mainly at packet sales for all things that are content related. Small, medium and obsessive(for those of us that want the box set because we just fell in love) would probably be the most lucrative for the marketplace.

    Did you see that MSFT mobile is now going after the Blackberry market Barry? Do they never learn?

  9. Loren Steffy commented on Oct 3

    BizLinks | 10.3.07

    Southwest execs see ‘significant opportunity’ in international routes Treasury Department- Let’s Audit The Auditors! Bankruptcy Filings Rising International Investors Tell SEC That US Corporate Governance is Too Weak– that’s funny, I thought th…

  10. maximo zeledon commented on Oct 3

    Absolutely agree with the recommendations you made Barry. Excellent! You have to consider google in the equation and you obviously understand the value. Too bad many people resist.

  11. maximo zeledon commented on Oct 3

    Absolutely agree with the recommendations you made Barry. Excellent! You have to consider google in the equation and you obviously understand the value. Too bad many people resist.

  12. crack commented on Oct 3

    I like how many people think they should go free. Jeff Jarvis has a lot of converts. I think the WSJ should buy me a car, I promise I’ll click through any ad they want. Then they could pay me on a monthly basis to keep reading their content, obviously its more important for me to look at stuff and talk about how great it is than for them to have me pay for it, think of all that great word of mouth!

    I like Barry’s idea. Charging for archives doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m much more likely to pay for current content.

  13. Rubens commented on Oct 3

    There is one thing that puzzles me. Who on earth clicks on those web search ads? I sure don’t. My friends that have web businesses and do keyword search advertising are convinced that there is a massive amount of click fraud going on. They say that based on the clicks on the ads versus actual sales. I would be interested in the view from people who sell stuff online and buy ads (not from those who sell ads).

  14. 12th percentile commented on Oct 3

    click fraud is definitely an issue but there are many businesses making a lot of money off of search ads. While Google’s share price might be a bit optimistic, they do make a hell of a lot of money. They couldn’t keep that up if all of their advertisers weren’t making money off the ads. Is all depends what you are selling and where you place your ads. And how good your ad copy is. Writing search ad copy is a bizarre thing due to the limited number of characters. But Google can be very cost effective for various business models.

    the best thing about search ads is that you can track how many times they’ve been viewed, the click rate, the terms that generated the clicks and then track those people all the way through your site and see what what they bought. You can get a better sense of ROI than any other type of advertising. Run some tests, tweak your ads, figure out if you are making money on them. Repeat.

    If Google ads didn’t get clicked on I doubt Barry would be running them on his site

  15. crack commented on Oct 3

    Why would Barry care if they got clicked? Does he pay to have them here? Does he get more if the links are clicked through? I honestly don’t know.

  16. L’Emmerdeur commented on Oct 3

    I hold an MBA from Stern, and I completely endorse this product or service. ;)

  17. donna commented on Oct 3

    Murdoch will want to push his views to the broadest audience. COntent will be free.

    And probably even less believable than the current WSJ bullshit….

  18. 12th percentile commented on Oct 3

    Why would Barry care if they got clicked? Does he pay to have them here? Does he get more if the links are clicked through? I honestly don’t know.

    If you have a site (like Barry) you can sign up for Google’s advertisements. You put a little bit of code on your site, Google runs their algorithm on your page to determine what a relevant ad would be based on the content of the page, serves up relevant ads and if anyone clicks on the ads and goes to the advertiser’s site they bill the advertiser an agreed upon amount per click. Google won’t tell Barry how much they are getting per click but they give Barry some portion of it. If Barry is happy with what they give him, he keeps running the ads. If you get significant traffic to your site, those per click payouts can add up very quickly. Back in the day I had two 5-10 page sites that got a few hundred visitors a week. Not much traffic but I was getting around $5 a click from Google(in certain industries advertisers will pay a lot of money for just one targeted click). Those were the good old days. Google bought all my beer that year.

    Most companies and sites still are doing a piss poor job of leveraging their content to generate traffic via search engines. Depending on their business model’s they could try to sell directly to these site visitors or use a model like Google ads. In either case, there is a lot of money being left on the table. I got tired of trying to convince MBAs of this and got out of the business. Unfortunately, that means I also left a lot of money on the table. But then again I never used to have time to read financial blogs. Now i do.

  19. crack commented on Oct 3

    But there is no downside to Barry leaving it there even if he gets no hits right?

  20. Brian commented on Oct 3

    How about a daily pdf (or similar) version of the newspaper with my subscription, for use on a sony reader?

    Put DRM on there if you want, make it self-destruct in a week, just stop sending me 4 lbs. of paper every week.

  21. Rubens commented on Oct 3

    I’m ignorant about search ads but I know people who advertised online things as diverse as electricity and baby clothes, and people who sold ads online, like Barry does. Generally the ones who sell ads are very happy with the easy money that comes in (ok, not so easy, they need to keep updating their web sites with interesting content) and the ones who buy buy ads (advertise online) are pretty disappointed. I wonder if people have generally been overpaying for keywords, or if my friends who advertise online are doing such a poor job.

  22. 12th percentile commented on Oct 3

    But there is no downside to Barry leaving it there even if he gets no hits right?

    If by downside you simply mean does it cost him anything out of pocket the answer is no.

  23. 12th percentile commented on Oct 3

    I wonder if people have generally been overpaying for keywords,

    No need to wonder. They are. Unless you are spending a large amount of money on ads each month, its a self serve set up. You log on, write your ads, set your bids, tell them where you want the clicks to go to and you are in business. However, you have to bid on how much you are willing to pay for an ad. The system is not user friendly at all and without fail anytime I worked with a client they were bidding far too much and wasting huge amounts of money. And it is my hunch that Google knows that many of its users are overbidding for clicks. And might even encourage it with their “Suggested Bid” tool.

    I had worked with one client that had a very dull offline business that was a gold mine(commercial coffee services). They had decided they were going to also have a website that would make them lots of money. They were spending $25K a month on Google ads. Those ads were generating much less than $25K a month in sales, let alone profit. They were not using the tracking functionality of the Google ad software at all. When it was initially explained to them who they were wasting their money they had no clue. And apparently $25K a month down the drain was no big deal. They maintained they knew what they were doing and just wanted help with getting their site to rank well in google for certain terms in the natural search listings. I did that for them. They always paid their bills.

    Depending on what you are selling Google’s ad system can be one of the most effectively ways to market and control your marketing spending. Despite what the ad agencies tell you, they can’t track how many more widgets you actually sell when you run your expensive TV ads. You can do this with search ads. Most people aren’t.

    That said, most people don’t click on the ads on Google when they do a search. They click on the search results. That is the real goldmine if you are selling something.

    In my experience the majority of companies are vastly underutilizing the potential of the web. Many also are wasting money on ineffective marketing.

    To get back to the original question that Barry posed. Companies like WSJ want to keep their archives for paid subscribers only. They are making money that way. But how many people are looking at a given page of their archives each day. Its a very small pool they have in their paid subscriber base. Now, if they opened that content up for free and let the search engines have at it, how much search traffic could they generate with all those pages that had previously sat behind a subscriber wall and never been read? Done properly, that number should be quite high. Like Barry I think there is a lot more money to be made if they take that route. But, now that Rupert owns the joint, I won’t mind if they don’t.

  24. Dervin commented on Oct 3

    You know, the easiest way to refute somebody who brings up a WSJ editorial as gospel is to say, “You know, there’s a reason why they give that away for fee.”

  25. the Dynamist commented on Oct 3

    Newspapers – online vs. print ads

    Long term trend watch: Barry Ritholz at the Big Picture discusses whether the WSJ should make its archives accessable for free. What really caught my eye was this chart… Yowza. It looks like the crossover point (online exceeds print ads)

  26. KP commented on Oct 3

    Now that Murdoch owns it, the new information is the worthless stuff and the old is the info that may actually still have value.

  27. Ryan commented on Oct 4

    I agree that they should not have the archives–at the least–be fee based. The ad flow would certainly pick up and I like the comment that wally made about aggregating the financial news world on their site. I use yahoo finance right now but I can see the WSJ being able to do this if they opened up the flood gates.

  28. Dan commented on Oct 8

    It is ironic that the print version of yesterday’s newspaper has long been identified as being so worthless that one uses it to wrap fish, etc., but online the archives are what you’re supposed to pay for…

  29. The Big Picture commented on Nov 14 to Become Free

    The Associate Press reported last night that once the Dow Jones deal closes at year’s end, Murdoch plans on giving away access to — for free. Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, said today that he intended to make access to T…

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