Posts about wsj

Prepare to be boarded

MediaGuardian’s Stephen Brook reports that, as rumored, Times of London editor Robert Thompson is bound for the U.S. to become publisher of the Wall Street Journal once his boss Rupert Murdoch closes the sale. Thompson is smart and respected. I think the Times under his leadership is good and on this trip, reading it more regularly, I think it’s improving. And don’t forget that when he was with teh Financial Times in New York, Thompson exploded its circulation. Add to this Murdoch’s noises about expanding coverage and taking on the New York Times.

And we have a newspaper war. Let’s hope we do. For it would only improve both papers. As always, when I’m in London, I’m struck by the benefit that accrues to all papers from their competitive and innovative fervor. I understand the arguments that Murdoch would be better to stick to business but selfishly, I hope he does give the Times a run. The old, gray lady needs to clear out her arteries.

Breakfast in the big time

I had a wonderful breakfast the other day with the Wall Street Journal’s Kara Swisher, talking about lots of things from Yahoo’s doom to entrepreneurial journalism. Her video over the omelet here.

Her colleague Walt Mossberg was having breakfast at the next table and as he wandered by he spotted my Treo on the table. Walt shoot his head. “You can do better than that,” he said.

I explained that I’m not allowed to have an iPhone yet. My son bought one with the proceeds of his Facebook app writing for a VC. And my wife said that if he teaches me to write apps, maybe I can get an iPhone, too.

‘Free the Journal’ drumbeat from inside

I’ve heard both arguments from inside Dow Jones about keeping the Journal behind a pay wall or freeing it to the world, but now comes no less a WSJ luminary than Kara Swisher voting for free from her (free) blog:

While I hate to differ with Crovitz, who helped us immeasurably in getting this site up and running as a free one, I think an open and ad-supported model is the only way to go now, especially under a larger and more powerful (and, most important, global) company like News Corp. that can really vault the site to higher prominence and higher traffic.

And given that the Journal’s online site garners estimated revenues of about $65 million from its paid efforts, which is admirable, it is chump change for News Corp. to try turbocharging the site as a free one, an experiment that will surely pay back the short-term cost. . . .

Most importantly, while a good product, the paid version simply creates a situation in which the Journal is not as relevant as it could and should be.

Scott Moore — a competitor, it should be noted — from Yahoo chimes in in the comments:

‘m not so sure “go free” is the right move for wsj.com at this point. I always felt they made a strategic mistake in launching the site with a subscription for many of the reasons Kara states about influence, size of audience, etc. At this point, however, its not at all clear that making the site free would automatically get it to the top of the Financial sites ratings without a big distribution partner (oh wait, there’s MySpace). And NewsCorp will have to weigh the potential damage to newspaper subscriptions and DJ wire service business if wsj.com goes free as is. Will be v interesting for sure, but its not a simple decision.

Heh. You can bet that Moore doesn’t want WSJ to go free; it would be a body slam to Yahoo News, which mostly merely aggregates while the Journal reports. Nice try, Scott.

Free the Journal

Lehman Brothers analyst Douglas Anmuth doesn’t go quite so far as to recommend that Rupert Murdoch should take the Wall Street Journal free online — as Murdoch has mused — but he does say they should consider it (in this PDF, via PaidContent).

I’ll go that far — and farther. By going free and with Murdoch’s investment in the product — that is, in the reporting and services and with his promotion — WSJ.com can become the unquestioned leading financial information brand worldwide, winning over its many competitors: Yahoo, Reuters (now stronger with Thomson), AOL, FT.com, Forbes, MSN, CNBC. But that will happen only if it goes free.

The strategy of charging for access to WSJ.com was, I’ll argue, a result of the Bancrofts’ absentee ownership. It was a way to play safe, to get another revenue stream and not cannibalize the paper. And management executed it brilliantly. But that wasn’t big thinking. Free is big thinking. And Murdoch thinks big.

He has also toyed publicly with the idea of going all-online: killing the paper. The Journal could, I think, be the first newspaper that could make that a strategy of success and growth instead of a sign of failure. Oh, I wouldn’t kill it quite yet. But I’d plan for that day and, in the meantime, figure out what the next stages of the print Journal should look like: all analysis and features, perhaps, with a USA-Today-like digest of news. But that’s still looking at the question the wrong way: papercentric. The real question is what the free online service could be worldwide: content, service, audience, advertising, thinking past paper.

No surprise, I’d also argue that WSJ.com should become distributed, putting its news and, more important, its data out there as nuggets, widgets, modules that many other sites — blogs, social services, shows — can distribute for you.

Make WSJ.com into an API and see what people can build on top of it. Why shouldn’t I be able to build a site tracking news in media with a foundation from WSJ.com: news, stock charts, industry performance, analysts’ opinions? The more people build on top of you, the bigger you get.

Getting back just to the site, Lehman’s Anmuth says that WSJ.com would need to double or triple its pageviews to make up for the lost subscription revenue with advertising volume. He’s not sure they can do that quickly. Fred Wilson, on the other hand, points out that NYTimes.com has 10 times the traffic of WSJ.com. I’ll agree that they could triple traffic in no time. So what about the ad rate? Anmuth says that WSJ.com attracts four times the rate of NYTimes.com. Dorian Benkoil would argue, I think, that this indicates free traffic is worth less than paid traffic. But I say that a free WSJ.com would still maintain high CPMs because financial is one of the only categories where there is some measure of scarcity online (that and travel and health at most sites I know); the IAB says financial is the No. 2 ad category (behind retail).

And the other factor that is almost always forgotten in this discussion of free-v-paid is the cost of charging: mostly the cost of marketing to acquire and retain subscriptions. We’re rarely told what the churn is at these paid sites — WSJ, NYT, FT — and that is a huge part of the cost structure that has to be part of the discussion of the bottom-line profitability of the strategy.

I have little doubt that the free WSJ.com would overtake the paid WSJ.com in revenue and profitability in short order. But, again, that’s not the reason to do this. The reason to go free is to explode the brand and make it many times bigger — internationally — than it is today.

Going free — and widgetized — will get it not only explosive traffic and audience growth but also, thanks to the links it doesn’t get now (apart from the smattering of free articles they wisely mete out to bloggers now) much, much richer Googlejuice. Search for “stocks” today and the first listing — after GoogleNews headlines — is Yahoo. Also on the first page are MSN, Business Week, and SmartMoney. The Wall Street Journal is not there. That is costing them a fortune.

And once they get Googlejuice, they can also get many times more Google ad revenue — even locally targeted ad revenue — they’re not getting today.

Another way to look at this is the return on investment Murdoch will get improving the product. If he adds more reporters, as he has said he plans to do, will that pay off in additional subscriptions and ad inventory? It’s hard to argue that it will have an immediate impact. But every new journalist who writes a new story that can be found on the open web will yield immediate traffic and ROI.

If they’re worried about leaving expense-account money on the table, there are so many new ways that WSJ can charge for services: advanced analytic data and software, industry meetings (real and virtual), special reports.

In the end, though, the bulk of being No. 1 will yield so many new opportunities. I think there will be a war to create valuable “social” networks in business (instead of buying Facebook, maybe Murdoch should buy Linked-In and liven it up before Facebook becomes — as it rapidly is — the default business networking tool online). The larger you are, the less your marketing costs you and Murdoch is about to start marketing his financial news channel (where internet distribution becomes vital; the days of making a channel work only through cable are over). He can capture the valuable wisdom of wise crowds and individuals (note that I’m an investor in Covestor, which exposes the successful individual investors and their strategies).

Free means big and there should be no smaller ambition for the Wall Street Journal than being the best and the biggest brand about money.