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 The Wall Street Journal’s Web site free, trading subscription fees for anticipated ad revenue.

“We are studying it and we expect to make that free, and instead of having one million, having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth,” Mr. Murdoch said, referring to The Journal’s online readership.

I am going to take a contrary position on this: I believe this is — in part — a mistake.

Thumb through either the print or online Journal, and you will see many high end luxe advertisers. They are not attracted by the sheer volume of readers, but rather, by the very appealing reader demographics: They pay a huge premium in ad rates to reach the highly educated, high income, tech savvy, free spending readers of the WSJ. (The demographics of a Journal reader are nearly as attractive as are those of The Big Picture’s).

Ironically, this raises an issue we have seen with another Murdoch property: Fox News. I have been told by several people in the advertising biz that despite Fox News utterly kicking CNN’s ass in the ratings, CNN charges much higher ad rates. Their ad sales, despite having lower total number of viewers, is more lucrative.


The simple answer is demographics. I have not personally seen the data, but according to these "Ad men," the CNN viewer has much better education and income numbers amongst; Fox news badly trails CNN in this department. The issue of disposable incomes of viewers surely concersn advertisers. One said to me "We can sell basic necessities on Fox and cheap trinkets; We can sell more upscale brands on CNN, and we can sell a lot more upscale goods on CNBC."

Hence, the business idea behind Fox Business channel: Aim for Fox News viewer numbers, with demographics between CNN and CNBC. If it works — tho far from a sure thing — it will be a huge money maker.

Murdoch apparently wants to apply the same idea to Get USA Today numbers but charge WSJ ad rates.

I am not so sure this will work: The Journal can and does charge a premium for their ads because of who is presently willing to pay for the service — both in print, and online: Those consumers advertisers find extremely attractive.

I remain am unconvinced that saying to advertisers "Come see all of our readers who can’t or won’t pay $79 per year for the" is a strategy for selling more high end luxe brands.

A hybrid system makes the most sense to us. As we previously suggested in WSJ: Free or Paid? (Yes) charging those willing to pay for the most recent (i.e., the most recent 2 weeks or so) will capture the highest end readers for those high paying advertisers who want to reach them. Pulling the rest of the paper out from behind the firewall for the broader advertisers has been my advice to the for several years now.

Hey, that’s just my opinion; Mr. Murdoch has shown over the years that he is a crafty businessman with a good feel for what the reading/viewing public wants. 

We’ll find out soon enough what the fate of the firewalled will be . . .


Murdoch Intends to Drop Fee
NYT, November 13, 2007

Murdoch Sees End to Journal Web Fees
WSJ, November 13, 2007 8:28 p.m.; Page B4

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  1. justin commented on Nov 14

    So much for the rich being Republicans and the poor being Democratics – I always new that, that was a big crock of crap. Murdocks idea seems very lucrative, in the long run: establish “price wars” with your competitors, thereby eliminating them, while encompensing the the earth with your product. Think of all the up-start Chinese and Indian, etc., viewers that are becoming middle-class.

  2. Philippe commented on Nov 14

    As someone whom tries not to read the advertisings but the newspaper content

    Good idea to have a free access to WS through the web, it may require the WS to have a lesser Panglossian and eccentric view of its domicile.
    Murdock may not lead this change.

  3. Rusty commented on Nov 14

    I’ve seen the cable news numbers, and differences in demo characteristics are certainly there. Foxnews is essentially the nursing home channel.

    From a profitability standpoint, they are still a winner, because their costs are lower – they don’t have to maintain news bureaus around the world, because they don’t operate under the pretense that they are an actual, credible news organization.

    The only rationale I can see for Murdoch to open up is to use it as a loss leader and credibility-builder for his fledging business news network. Given the credibility of his other networks, or lack thereof, and the more arbitrary, non-political nature of business news, he needs to borrow from and build on the WSJ’s reputation.

    Of course, it is just as likely that the WSJ’s authority is debased by the Murdoch plan. The only question then is whether this occurs before or after his biznews net has built up a viewership base.

  4. erpij commented on Nov 14

    When people complained that Murdoch taking over the WSJ would kill the paper’s streak of independent journalism (uhhhh…. independent being a loaded word), this is part of it: if it becomes more heavily ad based, then it’ll have no choice but to become like the US Today or NY Post – get more eyes on the paper!

    Imagine a NY Post version of the WSJ.

  5. babygal commented on Nov 14

    I spent many years “temping” in different institutions that received the WSJ including major banks, stockbroker firms, insurance agencies, architectural firms, magazine publishing etc.. Typically all the salesmen and writers received a daily copy. I was the only one who read it though. It would sit in the reception area or on their desks untouched until they chucked it at days end.

    Also I worked for many ad salesmen. These guys hustle and they get ads by any means necessary. They usually know nothing about the industry, but they know how to SELL. I’ve worked with the ad buyers who are pretty clueless also. I think people lie alot about their demographics-I know I do. I’m on every major survey panel there is and while I accurately review the product-no one needs to know how much my house cost or how much money I make or how much I have saved.

    I think it will be great for people like me who depend on giveaway promotions to read the WSJ and who actually LOVE reading it. They can just follow the TMZ model and force me to watch that same Pantene commercial over and over.

    I currently work in TV and I haven’t seen a TV commercial in probably 10 years. I TIVo or FLIP the channel immediately. I have zero tolerance. I never read magazine ads or listen to radio ads. When I want to buy something i.e. digital camera-I go to the blogs and pubs like Consumer Reports etc…

    Oh and of course Barry Ritholz has great reviews also!

  6. wally commented on Nov 14

    Your assumption is that the WSJ would keep the same focus. Perhaps not; perhaps it will become ‘popular’ to cash in on the name, moving premium content elsewhere, still for a fee.

  7. Mark commented on Nov 14

    Free or paid, who cares? Its almost completely worthless. A prime example was this weeks WSJ “news” (rumor to most of the rest of us) about Buffett buying the monolines.

    I find it amazing that none of these newspapers (except, arguably, the FT) has recognized that many demographically attractive, well educated subscribers are quite willing to pay real money for objective, non cheerleading (special shout out to Greg Ip on this one) reporting.

  8. Philippe commented on Nov 14


    I fully concur FT has a better impartial view where WS want to be international the US way.

  9. mph commented on Nov 14

    Unless making the WSJ causes it to become a less “exclusive” commodity – causing high-end users to believe it devalued and leave – I don’t see why this will affect ad rates at all. You’ll still have the same wealthy readers as before. They’re not going anywhere- why would this affect the ads targeted to them?

  10. Bob A commented on Nov 14

    I rarely read it since foxnews bought it. It’s about as balanced as Kudlow.

  11. Mike G. commented on Nov 14

    I actually like IBD better (and if this makes them keep the cost down, great!). As for selling junk, just take a look at any of the home shopping channels. I am not even the slightest bit tempted to pause while flipping by them, but obviously MILLIONS of people stop, watch and get out the credit card for the Guitar or necklace or whatever.

  12. slick commented on Nov 14

    Do all of you think you’re experts on EVERYTHING?
    Such arrogance.
    The Internet has given just about everyone on the planet the ability to opine on nearly every subject. However, that doesn’t mean they SHOULD, nor does it mean their opinions have any value.

    It’s truly laughable.

  13. Bob A commented on Nov 14

    look in the mirror slick

  14. Greg0658 commented on Nov 14

    The minutia they can collect on such a scale. This doorway is not darkglass. Story interest or better story disinterest, cookies, hang time, link thru.

    BR – did your site take notice that I steped away for Bernancke at Cato questions? Maybe it thought I was having breakfest or a #2.

    I’m worried of megastructures and the power of the Richistanians.

  15. Mike Nomad commented on Nov 14


    I have to disagree. Shifting advert focus is the best thing Rube can do given that he has to deal with several realities.

    While Rube may have a lot of credit, he has no credibility. At least not with those truly toward the top of the education ladder.

    The ad-space in the print WSJ is an up-sell. The target market is the aspiring rich, not the truly rich. The _truly rich_ read WSJ? Oh Please, the only thing they read is the writing on the outside of their compound’s wall. That, and maybe they sniff at it to determine if the paint is fresh.

    Not to be confused with the filthy rich, who don’t bother with walls, because you’d need to cross several acres of electronic surveillance, armed para-militaries, and guard dogs. See also: Booming land sales and construction in Costa Rica.

    There is a larger comment made by Rube shifting the advert target: The aspiring rich will soon no longer have the means with which to aspire.

    Then there’s the Barnum Element: Readership going up because Proles are looking for an ‘authoritative’ channel in making decisions with their forced-to-have-a-401K/403B-instead retirement fund.

    Sorry to be lead man in the bummer tent. Just my -.02 worth.


  16. The Financial Philosopher commented on Nov 14

    I have not seen, or care to search for the demographic statistics on this, but my anecdotal observation is that most “old media” consumers are not waiting for online access to their favorite newspaper and they are not likely to change their consumption habits…

    The vast majority of my clients are age 50 to 65 and NONE of them seek out financial information on the internet. They’ll keep looking at the newspaper until their eyes are too tired to read the print…

    I will second BR’s final comment that Murdoch seems to have a pretty good handle on media concerns.

    No one knows if free is a “wise” move. If you do “know,” then you will certainly profit by “betting” against Mr. Murdoch… We’ll find out soon enough…

    In the mean time, we many continue to be distracted by… uh, I mean consume… our preferred sources of media…

  17. Greg0658 commented on Nov 14

    ps – I missed presenting that the WSJ credentials get them many places, I’m sure. The info aquired can be disseminated or not, set in place by corporate objectives.

    Freedom of the Press is important – and not 2nd place, Freedom is dependant on a press pining to the Middlestanians too.

  18. commented on Nov 14 to become Free

    The Big Picture, a blog Ive recently begun reading, has a great post on News Corp.s recent announcement that the online Wall Street Journal will be free to all.
    Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation, said today t…

  19. RG commented on Nov 14

    Running the WSJ without all the cumbersome reporters and news sounds like a wonderful business idea. I think Ailes is 100% right that there is a market for business news that does not use scary words like “basis point” (he actually said this). I think I am just not a part of that market, because I actually use news to make money, and sometimes business news reporters need to use business words.

    As the inevitable USA Todayzation of the WSJ begins, let us all remember that journalists need to be paid, and therefore they will migrate somewhere else. Then, let us cheerfully pay to read their work in the new venue. (Portfolio anyone? FT?)

  20. Loren Steffy commented on Nov 14

    BizLinks | 11.14.07

    Crude rebounds slightly in overseas dealing Prosecutors oppose new trial for Skilling Investor Safe Haven Becomes a Concern– the next shoe dropping in the mortgage meltdown: the cost of protecting money market funds. Sirius, XM Holders Approve …

  21. me commented on Nov 14

    He also mentioned about making many changes to “make the paper readable”. Also bringing in the foreigners from UK and Australia. Good thing it will be free becuase I won’t pay for it anymore.

  22. Rick45 commented on Nov 14

    little late in the game to say the least, I’m up 40+% for the year thanks to:

    Barry (inflation hawk)
    Russ Winter (great Yen call)
    Mish (goldbug)
    Calculated Risk (aaahhh SKF)
    Brad Setser (bearish dollar)
    John Hussman (TWM)

    next thing you know the MSM WILL PAY YOU TO ACCESS THEM :)

  23. Rick45 commented on Nov 14

    p.s. i enjoy kudlow for ALL THE WRONG REASONS!

  24. Greg0658 commented on Nov 14

    Japan is on the moon with HDtv. 1st Google hits to FoxNews at the moment. JAXA (Japans Nasa) has a double line link. What is a double line link?

    JAXA what a missed opportunity. Should have landed next to Apollo site. I wanted to see that, then pan over to Earth. I think China is heading up there too, maybe they will get the money shot.

  25. rob commented on Nov 14

    makes sense that Fox’s audience consists of mouth breathers.

  26. Joe commented on Nov 14

    Who stands to gain the most from the WSJ losing its walls?

    The market for an business oriented newspaper with a subscription fee isn’t going away just b/c the WSJ changes its policies, so which newspaper/magazine will fill its shoes?

  27. mysterious eggs commented on Nov 14

    He bought a brand and will use it to sell an image rather than substance. It happened to the entertainment industry. That has been bled dry. Now news is entertainment. One of the reasons the internet must be kept neutral.

    We get music from bands who play because they enjoy it, videos from independents who have something to say and (news) blogs from people who aren’t afraid of people knowing their agenda. The WSJ is finished.

  28. sk commented on Nov 14

    re: WSJ readership demographics

    Reminds me of a story. A buddy at a Healthcare admin company and I severely competed at getting the mostest for the leastest at everything. He usually won – so if I boasted how I got something electronic for -1 cent at Fry’s he pointed out that I had to pay sales taxes, at LA county rates, whereas he paid at lower OC county rates.

    So, I was discussing how I got the WSJ at severely discounted rates – and he said:

    “Oh, I just pick up one in the lobby of our office. I know they are supposed to be there for the execs, but they never read them – there are several copies still there at the end of every day !”


  29. Dave commented on Nov 14

    Nobody mentioned MSNBC. Does anyone know why anyone advertises there?

  30. Ted Craig commented on Nov 14

    The real question is how many print subscribers like me aren’t going to renew next year when what we pay a pretty steep cost for is now free to everyone.

    A better idea is one used by trade publications like Automotive News: make it free to print subscribers.

  31. seamus commented on Nov 14

    Flip between CNN and Fox News (if you can stand it), and you’ll immediately notice the difference in the quality of the advertisers, especially during prime time.

    CNN: Financial institutions, cars, big brands.

    Fox: Collectibles, get-rich-quick schemes, cleaning and cooking gadgets.

  32. ken h commented on Nov 14

    CNN is a joke. All of their so called news commentary is intertwined with their ads. a Joke! It cracks me up when all the news channels switch from a presidential announcement to some crack whore who stole a car and is racing down the 405, for hours….

    ….Then get some retired Barney to add commentary about the “pic” manuever…over and over …and over. Friggen Joke!

    I mean,…how are you going to have a expose’ on someone who is big add revenue?

    I blog now! Case in point. CNBC anounced at the end of the day that fasb 157 had been delayed. Choking….I went to my blogs to quickly find out it was only partially deferred for certain non financial assets and liabilities while getting the web address for the pages that completely describe what was deferred.

  33. jbh commented on Nov 14

    i’m looking forward to the day when my favorite wsj columnists are freelance bloggers and earning more by skipping the intermediary distributors. in that world, my newspaper is on electronic paper, contains only authors whom i respect, and ads are smart enough to be relevant to a well to do yet insanely frugal consumer who cringes at the waste of limited economic resources spent on luxe.

    in that freer market, neither wsj nor murdoch add any value and slither into case study oblivion in a painful, protracted, tribune manner.

    c’mon 3M!!!

  34. Jon H commented on Nov 14

    “We can sell more upscale brands on CNN, and we can sell a lot more upscale goods on CNBC.”

    I call bullshit.

    CNBC has too many ads pushing gold and coins and crap that just look shady.

  35. Andrew Yu commented on Nov 15

    “the demographics argument is important but I think the author misplayed it

    Suppose WSJ retains all its old customer
    and then adding more low-end’s still a net-win for the advertisers

    I guess making it free without changing content won’t drive away old readers, right ?

  36. JL commented on Nov 15

    The WSJ is DONE as an independent news source for ANY type of reporting. Just like FAUXNews was created to push Murdoch’n’clones’ political agenda, WSJ will be used to push their business interests.

    As time passes don’t expect to see many critical articles about NewsCorp and other Murdoch holdings in the WSJ.

    No matter what kind of advertising you happen to be a target of anyone who will rely on the WSJ as a source of financial information (for investment decisions etc) will do so at their own peril.

  37. Lurker commented on Nov 15

    I love this liberal blogger and his liberal posters bad mouthing Fox on their demographic?

    Have you seen the study before writing your article with these supposed Ad men?

    I believe I saw the report but can’t remember but Fox News was right or near the top with CNN.

    This is what State of the Media had to say about CNN.

    ” CNN’s historic lead in advertising revenue can be attributed to both familiarity and performance. It commands a substantial cumulative audience and remains the channel of choice for breaking news events, making it appealing for advertisers who want a guaranteed audience. ”

  38. Mike commented on Nov 17

    Much anecdotal reporting reflects desire rather than reality – so reporting that the CNN franchise is more lucrative than Fox is likely more a reflection that the media’s hates Fox (and its success) than actual fact.

    Shame on Big Picture – any fool can mention unsubstantiated anecdotes, wise men provide more evidence.


    BR: OK Mike, go at it:

    Follow your own advice, and please provide the contrary evidence that Fox’ ad rates are higher than CNN.

    Or is that too much work . . . ?

    (Seriously, I have no patience for clowns giving me homework assignments)

  39. David commented on Nov 17

    The WSJ is already free. When you get to a WSJ Online page that restricts access, copy the article title to the clipboard and paste it into the Google News search bar. You’ll quickly be directed to a fulltext version of the article.

  40. JudgeJudy commented on Nov 18

    Just looked at some WSJ free content on its home page. It needs more cowbell.

  41. lurker commented on Dec 6

    Hey remember your post a few weeks back slandering Fox News and I said you were dead wrong?

    Your quotes down there

    ” The simple answer is demographics. I have not personally seen the data, but according to these “Ad men,” the CNN viewer has much better education and income numbers amongst; Fox news badly trails CNN in this department. The issue of disposable incomes of viewers surely concersn advertisers. One said to me “We can sell basic necessities on Fox and cheap trinkets; We can sell more upscale brands on CNN, and we can sell a lot more upscale goods on CNBC.”

    Well here’s the killer

  42. lurker commented on Dec 6


    You smoking crack again?

    If you can’t read that list you should shut your trap.

    With those #’s you don’t think Fox News attracts an upscale audience?

    Fox was higher then CNN by $10,000 in the advertiser important 25-54 demo. #3 on all of cable. Damn, what slander by this Barry guy. He’s going to rely on his ad men or Nielsen Media Research? lol

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