Rupe: Free Is Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose (and Everything to Gain?)
As we have predicted (and advocated) many times in BoomTown, including in this post titled “Free to Be, Rupe and We,” News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch indicated yesterday that he is strongly considering taking down the paid wall at The Wall Street Journal’s online site.
Murdoch, the new owner of Dow Jones (and, by extension, this site too), told a crowd at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York that he had not pulled the free-switch yet, but argued for the move and said he was not worried about it impacting revenue.
His argument in a nutshell: more audience=more ad dollars.
“Will you lose $50 million to $100 million in revenue?” Murdoch asked and then answered his own question. “I don’t think so. If the site is good, you’ll get much more.”
The site is good and you will get much more. I have long thought so, as I wrote in May: “I vote–and I know Murdoch definitely does not preside over a democracy–yes, ma’am, um, sir, for a free WSJ.com.”
Because, while a paid model might have been right in the past, having a larger, powerful and global owner changes the stakes considerably and allows the tremendous site to make bolder moves than ever before.
And such a move would also make the Journal more relevant on the Internet, because a paid wall has kept its content too much apart from the online conversation that is only growing exponentially.
The hit the site might take–potentially lowered ad revenue in the short term and lower ad prices in general–is a necessary one, I think, on a road to much greater prominence the site deserves. It is a risk well worth taking.
And that is not to say there are not many opportunities for premium content offerings.
Why not a paid site aimed at users seeking highly specialized news, data and information on a variety of topics? Why not offer supercharged stock-charting tools? Why not a Walt Mossberg fan club, complete with a free T-shirt (pictured below) upon becoming a member?
While Murdoch declined to drop the hammer on the subscription WSJ.com site, that move seems inevitable now, especially after the New York Times ended its dopey and irksome TimesSelect (even the name is ickily elite-sounding), which gated the best stuff behind a paid wall, effective today.
In the email I just got from them, the Times said: “Since we launched TimesSelect, the Web has evolved into an increasingly open environment. Readers find more news in a greater number of places and interact with it in more meaningful ways. This decision enhances the free flow of New York Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone, everywhere to read our news and opinion–as well as to share it, link to it and comment on it.”
They finally got that right. News flash: Free at last.