Will Murdoch Use WSJ to Blast Financial Times?

15 November 2007

ADELAIDE: Rupert Murdoch, addressing the annual meeting of News Corporation stockholders on Tuesday, confirmed he is considering switching wsj.com from its current subscription model to a free basis.

The Wall Street Journal, already Nipper to Murdoch's phonograph, saw its master's pronouncement on the subject as his most definitive comment to date.

The WSJ's online sibling - now nudging the one million subscription mark and generating around $50 million (€34.25m; £24.12m) annually in revenues - is likely to be converted to a free, ad financed model.

"We are studying it and expect to make that free," said the mogul, "and instead of having one million [subscribers], having at least 10m to 15m in every corner of the earth."

There is, of course, nothing new in Murdoch's intention - which he frequently voiced even before ensnaring Dow Jones - or in the concept of offering content for free which goes back to the early days of the web, and beyond.

According to NewsCorp insiders, WSJ.com will shortly become free, apart from certain specialized sections directed at financial professionals. These will be available only on a paid basis.

And although Murdoch has already made it clear that his acquisition of WSJ parent Dow Jones bodes ill for the New York Times, it's more likely his real target is Pearson plc's FT.com, the subscription-only online version of the Financial Times.

Until this year, the rivals' subscription rates were roughly comparable, but the decline of the dollar now gives the WSJ a sharp competitive edge.

FT.com claims slightly more than global 100,000 subscribers, who between them generate around £9m in annual revenues, say analysts. Usage of the site has grown substantially this year with unique users up by more than 70%.

If Dow Jones finally falls into the Murdoch maw next month - a fate from which only federal antitrust authorities can now save it - FT.com will have little option but to abandon its subscription-only business model.

Which, to paraphrase the immortal Doctor Johnson's observation on an imminent hanging, will for Pearson ceo Dame Marjorie Scardino," concentrate the mind wonderfully".

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff