When Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought Dow Jones, one expected result (of many) was that the Wall Street Journal 's subscriber-supported online model was going to be liberated to become a free service.
For a dozen years wsj.com has been only accessible to the paying customer. A number of other large media organizations, from the New York Times to our own company at Canwest, either compelled users to pay for some access (TimesSelect) or granted access either as an add-on to existing newspaper subscribers or to users who would pay a fee for the HTML version of the paper's eligible content.
Newspapers wrestle with this question on at least two main fronts: there is a value proposition for consumers in a paid-for product (they feel more loyalty to it and feel it is more valuable) and there is a significant revenue implication to abandoning a business model that depends partly on users (and not entirely on advertisers) to pay for journalism. The recent State of the News Media report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism affirmed concern about finding a new business model in the absence of a well-supported advertising-based media organization. After all, someone or something has to pay for news.
Even so, slowly but surely almost everyone has opted with varying degrees of reluctance to join the content-is-free club. Almost overnight the user traffic grows substantially, and in theory that traffic is the foundation to build a successful advertising revenue model to finance newsgathering.
When wsj.com loosened some restrictions earlier this year and permitted editorials, commentary and videos to be freely available, traffic grew by about 40 per cent to 23 million unique visitors a month. It was widely expected that was the first of a few steps to make the Journal's journalism free. Perhaps a premium service with extra content might be preserved for the paying customer, but the general view was that any month now a free Wall Street Journal would be online.
But it's one thing to give up subscription revenue when you're early in the game, and quite another when there are about one million paying customers.
So Les Hinton, in his first interview as the CEO of Dow Jones & Co. with The Australian newspaper, says it's unlikely wsj.com will be free --- he's not saying never, just not now.