Wall Street Journal: Murdoch Starts Free Content Countdown

15 January 2008

NEW YORK: Rupert Murdoch's promise [threat, some would say] to provide the Wall Street Journal's online content free of charge has commenced its rollout, reports US trade magazine AdWeek.

Last week the WSJ's 'Opinion' section offered access to all its editorials, opinion-pieces and video content without charge to all comers. The video clips are mostly lifted from Journal Editorial Report, a weekly TV program on the Fox News channel.

The countdown to an all-free WSJ was announced at a News Corporation investor conference last week, although president/coo Peter Chernin told attendees that the firm has not yet decided whether to remove all access charges (currently $99 (€66.95; £50.53) annually) for online news content

One of the attendee moneymen, Bear Stearns' analyst Spencer Wang, calculates that WSJ.com would need to multiply its current page views by a factor of twelve to compensate for lost subscription revenue - if and when it goes 100% free.

Although "this could be challenging based on traffic for comparable financial news sites," Wang doubts such a move would impact adversely on NewsCorp's total financials and stock valuation.

"Conversion of WSJ.com to free appears unlikely to be a material event for the NewsCorp empire," opines Wang. "In our worst-case scenario, we see annual earnings per share being negatively impacted by only $0.01 and equity value by about 1%."

The newspaper itself suggests than an "all-free" strategy would be a seminal event.

In an editorial, it cites economist Joseph Schumpeter's so-called 'creative destruction' theory which posits that radical innovation sustains long-term economic growth, despite its devaluation of established - and often monopolistic - companies.

Said the WSJ in self-congratulatory tones: "Everyone knows that Schumpeter's 'creative destruction' is roiling the newspaper world, and today we'd like to announce something on the creative side."

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff