Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Wall-less 'Wall' Street Journal Losing Online Revenue? Not A Chance.

The Wall Street Journal will lose $63 million in revenue if it made its advertising free.

That's what the media world is saying after Rupert Murdoch and Co. hinted that the last "Great Wall of Online Journalism" might soon fall, months after its closest competitor put the kibosh on TimesSelect.

But you know what? With all of the numbers floating 'round in that article, I really think this flap is misleading.

"Recovering that in advertising sales would require boosting traffic by 130 percent, based on calculations by Reuters and Mike Vorhaus, managing director of Frank N. Magid Associates and a veteran media industry consultant to Dow Jones, New York Times Co's namesake newspaper and Time Warner Inc's online unit AOL.

Few doubt Murdoch's logic, given that as much as 80 percent of financial Web site visitors leave after refusing to pay subscription fees, according to Vorhaus, and given the rapid growth of Internet advertising."

You know what, Rupe? I'm right there with you on this one. If the Journal brought down the wall, there would be an instant traffic boost (the difference between The New York Times and this one is that most of the Journal's content, and not just editorials, is behind the wall). I'm not going to lie -- I regularly read the daily free content and only if I have access, such as during a "free" day or through an institution, will read further. Why?

The 21st century's mantra online, that's why: If it causes me difficulty or expense to get, I don't want it -- especially if I can get it somewhere else.

Meanwhile, the whole nation is wondering what's going on and why they should care when the press screams out that FOX-bred Murdoch is buying the Journal. Why should they care? It's not like the occasional reader is going to pony up the dough for an annual WSJ subscription.

But if it's free, and it's online, they might just read it. And what WSJ-er wouldn't want their quality work to be seen?

It sounds like a management decision, but it's really an editorial win -- and don't let the numbers fool you, because it's not a big hit against the Journal to lose that kind of cash:

  1. Because newspapers primarily rely on advertising and not subscriptions, even if they do bring extra cash flow;
  2. Because while that figure is the top of the pops for online journalism, it's pebbles compared to the printed edition;
  3. Because the Journal will see large traffic increases just by lowering the wall, thus increasing advertising rates; and
  4. Because there's no reason why the Journal, in setting an online trend, can't raise it's online advertising rates and start changing the business model top-down for the whole industry.
It's still early in the online business model, isn't it? Whose to say advertisers aren't going to pay increased rates for a newly-free online Journal?

With such quality writing in that newspaper, the risk is lower than, arguably, any other publication to make this kind of jump. And if Murdoch's smart about it, he'll advertise that fact like it's the second coming of the Fox Business Channel.

Readers will return -- shouldn't the Journal be confident in that?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Right on Andrew.
WSJ should remember why people read it in the first place. Same said for any company that was founded as traditional media and now is looking to the web for money. They need to remember why they matter first place. Many media companies are losing site (sic) of why consumer went there in the first place. I was a 22 year old college grad who worked in commercial radio in Oklahoma. But, I subscribed to the WSJ and listened to NPR. I still do that but today I do it from a computer. Loyalty can still matter. Ads help the company pay for staff to create content and other overhead. Unique properties must remain unique or they all will just be fast food and indistinguishable.

Doug Mitchell