Freeing the Journal

by on August 2, 2007 · 0 comments

Relatedly, Ingram has an interesting post on whether Rupert Murdoch should make the Wall Street Journal‘s website available for free:

I know that many newspapers have looked to the Journal as a model for what a paper can do online, because it is one of the few that has charged for its content from the very beginning and built what appears to be a successful business doing so. But does it make sense now? This Wall Street Journal story notes that Murdoch commissioned a study that looked at what going free would mean for the paper, and from that he concluded that while readership would grow by a factor of 10, advertising would likely only grow by a factor of five, and the loss of subscription revenue would effectively make the whole thing a wash. In other words, maybe’s it’s not worth it.

It’s not clear whether the study looked at the short run or the long run, but it seems to me that if the short-run financial outcome is anywhere close to a wash, then it’s stupid to keep the paywall. Because the biggest harm a paywall does is dramatically limit a site’s long-term growth potential. People who currently like the Journal enough to pay for it will likely keep doing so. But given the massive amount of information out there, most people just leaving college are likely to opt for one of the Journal’s free competitors.

Moreover, being free brings a wealth of ancillary benefits that don’t show up in the bottom line right away. As a blogger, I almost never link to stories behind paywalls because I can usually find a free version of the same story. My impression is that other bloggers tend to act the same way. So as the blogosphere becomes an increasingly important source of traffic, paywalls will become more of a liability. If Murdoch can eliminate the paywall and completely replace the lost revenue with ads, that seems like a no-brainer to me.

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