Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Pay Up: The Wall Street Journal Tries Charging Web Subscribers for Mobile Access

rupert-murdochHow on earth does The Wall Street Journal expect its subscribers to pay an additional fee to read the newspaper on a mobile phone?

It doesn’t. Except when it does.

Contrary to News Corp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch’s comments earlier in the week, Dow Jones will not be charging customers who subscribe to both its Web and print versions a weekly fee to read the paper on its iPhone or BlackBerry apps.

But if you’re only subscribing to one version? That’ll be a buck a week, starting Oct. 24. The Journal will also start charging mobile-only users $2 a week, which is essentially the same price as a Web-only subscription.

That second charge makes some sense to me. The Journal has always said that it would start charging for the apps it makes for Apple’s (AAPL) and Research in Motion’s (RIMM) handsets. Right now these apps are gratis, which means you can either pay the Journal to read it in print or on the Web, or read it on your iPhone and pay zilch. That had to change at some point.

But while I have to be a tiny bit delicate here–Dow Jones owns this Web site, and I still have some aversion to insulting my employers in public–I don’t see how dunking paying customers a second time makes sense.

I do understand some of the impulse. Publishers of all stripes seem to think that while charging for content on the Web is tough, people are happy to pay for something delivered wirelessly. I think that many publishers are going to be very disappointed when they try this out in practice, but that’s another story.

And I also know that News Corp. has steadily been pushing Dow Jones to raise its subscription prices for the WSJ since it acquired the company, and this strategy sort of dovetails with that.

But seems to me that if I am paying for information, I will expect to consume it wherever I am, at the same price. And you’re starting to hear some publishers say the same thing–see Variety’s comments about subscription plans today in PaidContent.

I don’t actually pay for my WSJ subscription; my employers, who, I should stress, are truly excellent people, have hooked me up–so maybe I’ve got this wrong. Or maybe it’s merely a marketing issue: If you jack up my WSJ subscription and tell me you’re throwing in access to the mobile app for free, I might be okay with it.

But tell me you’re charging me an additional fee to read it on the go and it will stick in my craw. Let’s see if the paper’s paying subscribers feel the same way.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work