The Wall Street Journal may be getting more expensive. The business paper has been making headlines of late for growing its revenues behind a pay wall while other papers are bleeding ad revenue. But is the Journal the exception to the rule, or just ahead of the curve of paying more money for content?
Speaking at the Digiday: Networks conference in New York, Brian Quinn, the Journal’s vice president of digital ad sales, said that the newspaper is so happy with its subcription results that it is looking to push the website toward a “hyperpaid” model. And Quinn said that there are initiatives across Newscorp trying to try to get people to pay even more for its content.
Just last week, former AOL exec and current Chief Digital Officer at News Corp. John Miller suggested that Hulu content might soon go behind a pay wall. But will charging for content work for all Dow Jones properties?
Unlikely. WSJ.com has succeeded so far because the site has a unique position in the marketplace. With its focus on business and its trusted reputation for reporting quality content, many individuals and businesses depend on the Journal enough to pay for it. But will other properties function in the same way? Hulu for one has a good deal of content that users are accustomed to access for free, which even Quinn admits is an inhibitor to switching to a paid model.
When asked if other newspapers could take a lesson from the Journal, he said that his paper had an advantage because “we had the benefit of doing it out of the gate.”
But hearts and minds are changing as media executives try to get around declining ad revenues. Quinn noted that when Rupert Murdoch first expressed interest in purchasing Dow Jones, he was focused on making The Wall Street Journal free. But now that he is at the helm of the paper, “Murdoch is all about paid.”
The Journal has been smart about its subscription model so far. They do not hide all of their content behind a pay wall — virtually all Wall Street Journal content is available for free through search. It’s a loophole that allows free access to articles, but it’s not a way to game their system, it’s intentional, says Quinn: “We want the site to be part of the search experience.”
There is a worry that such free features will eat into the company’s revenue. As yet, the company hasn’t seen any encroachment into their revenues from the free search feature, but they are willing to pull it if that happens in the future.
Quinn says that The Wall Street Journal is focused on “growing the free,” but across the board at News Corp., they are trying to get people to pay more for content.
It makes sense to find alternative to advertising in such a weak market. But charging for content is a risky proposal with the potential to lose viewers. Hulu, for instance, is growing in popularity and working toward being the market leader for high quality television content, but hiding its videos behind a pay wall could see viewers flee at a high rate.
As Quinn said today, changing the subscription model for a business can sometimes be a case of trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.