Ever since taking over The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch has been making noise about charging more for its content. And now the paper is moving toward charging for mobile content.

WSJ.com has started polling iPhone subscribers to the paper's content to gauge their proclivity to pay for the application.

While consumers are lax to pay for content they currently receive for free, this could be a great revenue stream for The Journal. And Apple is paving the way for more papers to follow suit with changes at the App Store.

According to PaidContent, the iPhone's latest software update gives new billing options for app creators. Previously, apps could have one price point (anywhere above $.99), but now they are set up to charge subscription fees, which should be appealing to newspaper publishers.

The Wall Street Journal is especially suited to this model. The company's mobile app was downloaded 360,000 times in its first three weeks and DowJones has already found success charging for content where others have failed.

That said, WSJ's online subscription success is no guarantee that it will continue to find sucess charging for other items. Last month in New York, The Wall Street Journal's vice president of digital ad sales Brian Quinn argued that his paper's paid subscription model works because they've always charged for content online. "We had the benefit of doing it out of the gate," he said.

Currently, the paper's iPhone application is free, which works against their plans to start charging for content. But there are two factors on their side here. For starters, mobile apps are still a nascent market. While smartphone users may have gotten accustomed to getting content for free, the space is growing to the point where that behavior could easily be forgotten. Furthermore, for dedicated readers of the paper, paying for full access to the Journal's content would be a benefit, not a burden.

While having a light mobile version of the newspaper is a nice feature, full mobile access could actually be useful to professionals who depend on the paper for business.

I would absolutely pay a small fee for full access to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal on my phone. But then again, I just paid $4.99 for a Twitter client yesterday. So I'm probably not indicative of the majority of mobile users.

But I'd argue that people who depend on their smartphones for content will pay a premium for instant access and thorough content from premium publishers like The Wall Street Journal.

Like most media monetization schemes, the rub comes when smaller and less integral newspapers try following suit. Publications that are not integral to professionals' lives could cut themselves off from consumers if they put up a pay wall to their content in the mobile space.

That said, it will be interesting to see how readers respond to WSJ.com's survey and what sort of pay scheme they go with if they start charging for mobile content.

Meghan Keane

Published 1 July, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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