October 22, 2004 1:31 PM PDT
Extra! Wall Street Journal gives away Web content
In recent months, the business news outfit has been sending nightly e-mail to bloggers, or online diarists, to offer up several daily stories free so that they can point to or link to them from their Web pages. And on Nov. 8, the company plans to remove its paid wall altogether for five days, for the first time in 7 years, according to the company.
"This will enable nonsubscribers to use WSJ.com and learn about the depth of content," WSJ.com managing editor Bill Grueskin wrote in an e-mail.
The move is notable because WSJ.com has long been held up as one of the few examples of success in collecting subscriber fees from Web surfers, who have a bevy of free choices in news. Dow Jones, the parent company of The Wall Street Journal Online, reported that the site had 701,000 online subscriptions in the third quarter, a rise of 2.2 percent from the same period in the previous year. Grueskin said those numbers were a record high.
By contrast, The New York Times Digital has since inception taken the populist road and opened its most recent stories to all, relying instead on Internet advertising. That path, more often taken by Web publishers, was undoubtedly rocky during and after the dot-com implosion. But now that Web advertising has rebounded, with an expected $9 billion in total revenue in 2004, it could be paved with gold for top-tier sites.
Media analysts say WSJ.com may want to test out being an ad-supported site.
"By opening it up, you start to see what kind of traffic you can get," said Aditya Kishore, an analyst at research firm The Yankee Group. "Once you have a sense of the traffic you would get as a free site, then you can translate that to value for advertisers."
In September, WSJ.com had about 3.6 million unique visitors, who spent an average of 24 minutes at the site during the month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, a market research firm. NYTimes.com had about 9.1 million visitors, who spent an average of 43 minutes.
Both publishers are experimenting with behaviorally targeted advertising, which lets marketers direct promotions to a specific set of readers based on their habits. Advertising analysts agree that such advertising is a growth market.
The Journal's overture to bloggers could also been seen as a nod to shifting reading habits online, which has been brought about by news aggregation services and the rise of blogs. Blogs are personalized pages of opinion on topics ranging from politics to soap operas, and they can often set off a groundswell of attention on a news item.
That's why many sites, including NYTimes.com, CNET News.com and Variety, have begun offering their news headlines in the format Really Simple Syndication (RSS) so that bloggers and individuals can aggregate and point to the stories. The Journal's site has followed suit in recent months.
"This provides readers of those blogs who don't subscribe to WSJ.com the ability to read certain stories, interactive graphics or other features from the site that day," Grueskin said, adding that the free stories have mostly been campaign news.
The last time the Journal opened its site to all for a week was seven years ago, when it had reached the milestone of 100,000 paid subscribers, according to a company representative.