Bring it on, Rupert

Considering how infrequently I read Wall Street Journal articles, its threatened plans to bring on micropayments would turn out to be a much better deal for me than for the Journal.

I subscribe to WSJ.com only because I think I should (it’s a legacy of my expense-account days) but I find I read articles rarely because I first go through The New York Times, the Guardian, PaidContent, TechCrunch, and other sources before I get to the Journal. Indeed, I never go to the Journal to see what they have to tell me today; I go there through links to articles that were in none of the above. That is how young people read the news today (remember: “If the news is that important, it will find me”). If I really want to read that article, I might make a payment so small as to be called micro. But I wouldn’t end up making many of them. The knowledge that I could read that occasional piece would give me the confidence to cancel my WSJ.com subscription. In this transaction, Rupert loses.

I did also subscribe to the Journal on the Kindle as an experiment: Would it become a habit? I tried reading it every day but, again, I’d already gone through my primary sources and I found it repetitive. I also have found that media coverage in the Journal has been way down since Murdoch bought it; my Kindle experiment only drove that home.

You see, the problem here is the myth of regular readership. When I started newspaper sites, I had publishers on my rear because they expected people to read them every day, just as (they thought) people read newspapers. But just because the thing plops on the front porch every day, that doesn’t mean everybody reads everything – or sees every ad. That was the myth that fueled overpriced ad rates and overinflated editorial egos. Online, we get to see what people really read – and what it’s really worth to them – and that’s a lot less than we ever thought.

So if the Journal brings on micropayment, I fear for them that they’ll lose doubly. They’ll lose my subscription. They’ll lose my even occasional readership and the ad revenue that can come with that. They will, in a cruel irony, replace digital dollars with micro pennies.

  • They’ll also lose relevancy, Jeff, for the ethic of the link ends at the pay wall.

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  • Fascinating anecdota, but then you’re wildly atypical, even for the average user of WSJ.com. I doubt that the WSJ’s plan here is to solicit more Jeff Jarvises (or even more Vin Crosbies).

    Although I’m not privy to WSJ’s exact plan, its proposal to add microtransactional access capabilities appears designed to widen its worldwide readership beyond only those folks willing to pay $103 per year to access it.

    Will having more people much more inexpensively able to access this paid site increase regular readership? Er, yes.

    As for Terry’s prediction that WSJ.com will lose relevancy because the ‘ethic of the link ends at the pay wall,’ somebody should point out that the WSJ already is a $103 paywall site. Does anyone really think that it’ll LOSE whatever relevancy it has by markedly REDUCING its paywall price and, morever, finally permitting much more inexpensive piecemeal access behind that paywall? Er, yes again.

    • 1) I don’t think Jeff is that atypical. If the payments are really “micro” I would cancel both print and online pretty quickly. 2) More importantly, if they go through with this, they will number of new subscribers they will sign up will drop dramatically. In this respect newspapers are like health clubs – if they charged by the visit they would all go out of business.

  • A better approach would be to keep today’s issue of the WSJ behind a pay wall and let everything previously go free – with the WSJ collecting an ad revenue share when their content is viewed.

    This approach will enable the Internet to do what is does best and create a tangible marketplace that goes beyond links which most mainstream publishers don’t fully appreciate yet.

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  • I’m the reader the WSJ is looking for. I don’t subscribe in print or on the web, but from time to time I encounter links to WSJ articles that I’d pay to read.

    Depending on their pricing, the WSJ would probably get $5-$10/year in micropayments out of me. So the question is: are there 10 or 20 like me to replace each subscriber (like Jeff) they lose?

    My guess is: yes, there are.

  • @Vin – Er, somebody should point out that the WSJ offers certain high profile stories for free that are regularly linked. One assumes – perhaps incorrectly – that this will go away in a micropayments environment. Another issue for me is the method of making these payments. Efforts to create a pay “layer” along the backbone of the Web offer the ease of a highway “toll tag,” in which case one has to ask if the strategies of media companies would include the actual solicitation of links. Er, yes.

    • Dale Harrison

      This is been tried repeatedly for more than a decade with little widespread adoption by either buyers or sellers.

      Maybe Google can create a micro-payment toll-tag system…hehe

  • Carson

    This system has some flaws (to the extent I’ve used it) that erode the benefits it is designed to provide.

    I subscribe to the web copy; but I almost always find articles of interest through some other link. But they say to pay or subscribe but very often there is not “already a subscriber?” button or way to log in. So I have to note the article, then go to wsj.com to log in and then find the article. It is frustrating for the time but moreso because it is so unnecessary.

  • invitedmedia

    let’s say mr. jarvis reads an article @wsj then waffles on about it here. how the heck will rupert collect?

    i really don’t have to get the news from the source, a trusted tribesman’s take on it will suffice.

    a fine kettle of fish, rupert

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  • Kevin Richardson

    I think I’d take a different tack…if the WSJ is no longer the “Primary Source” then what about working to become that primary source? And, rather than focusing on how to get me (30 something) back as a reader…how about focusing on how to connect to HS/college students today? Why would I go to the “Journal” for anything when it will come to me from somewhere else?

  • Ben

    “Replace digital dollars with micro pennies.” If that doesnt hit home, I don’t know what will. When will they wake up?

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