What The Free Wall Street Journal Might Look Like

If Rupert Murdoch makes the Wall Street Journal free, here is what the front page might look like in a year or so.

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To compensate for the lost subscription revenue, a free WSJ will have to make up for it with ad revenue. To do that, they will have to attract a more mass market audience. Call me elitist, but I think when any website begins attracting *the masses* the quality of the content goes down considerably. Why? Because to lure the masses, you need content about celebrities, catchy linkbait titles, easy mindless top 10 lists, and other stuff that doesn't require thinking – just following.

I love the Wall Street Journal because they have content that I can't get anywhere else. They have one million people who actually pay money to access their content online, and instead they want to compete on free? Why? If this happens, my guess is we will see fewer articles about small cap companies and more stuff about Apple and Google, the darlings of the masses. There won't be any more intelligent discussion about changes in accounting rules or the intricacies of CDOs. Instead we'll get self-help style business jibberish.

Ok, ok. You're right. It won't be that bad, but sometimes you have to exaggerate to make a point. The Wall Street Journal is special. They should be proud of what they do and of the subscriber base they have. Making the WSJ compete for the attention of the mindless masses would be like turning the Smithsonian into a night club. WSJ reporters have better things to do than play the game of who can write the best linkbait.

  • Dave

    As the Wall Street Journal has become a mouthpiece for the righ, its content has become increasingly suspect. Bad business insues, so what difference will any of this really make.

  • raj

    It’ll look like that anyways, simply b/c Rupert Murdoch is taking over.

    You forgot: News Anchor Girls Gone Wild

  • I am willing to bet that Murdoch has run the numbers and feels he can get more ad views to more than make up for the loss of paying subscriptions. Rupert Murdoch knows what he is doing.

  • Rob

    Yes, but that’s not the point. The point of the post is that in order to get more ad views, the WSJ will have to create more mass market content, thus lowering the quality of the paper.

  • Actually Rob that’s not true at all. By simply exposing the content to search engines and getting rid of the subscription model you will significantly increase ad revenue without changing content. You do realize that most of the content of the journal isn’t exposed deeply to the search engines – wsj.com has 143,000 pages indexed in Google which is nothing for site of that size. WSJ won’t have to do anything to the content – just making it available is sufficient. Murdoch may make the Journal more mainstream but that’s Murdoch. The Internet hasn’t been entirely receptive to subscription business models since it artificially limits your eyeball count.

  • Rob

    Yes, I realize they expose more pages to search engines, but that doesn’t mean instant traffic. If the WSJ needs to increase traffic by 15x to make up for the lost subscription revenue, there may not be enough interest. I could write free content about accounting rules all day, and I’m never going to get 15MM people to read it, no matter how free or well indexed it is. That’s my point.

    Lots of sites have trouble finding enough of a mass audience to make their content creation costs justifiable. Search is a non-scalable solution for traffic. There are only so many searches for “off balance sheet transactions” and other things the WSJ writes about. What happens if, by going free, they increase traffic by 8x, and that isn’t enough to make up for the revenue? Well, then they are forced to write things for search engines, to stuff their articles with more of the keywords people are searching for, and to stop writing about low search items like accounting rules changes and more about high search items like Britney Spears.

  • “Lots of sites have trouble finding enough of a mass audience to make their content creation costs justifiable. Search is a non-scalable solution for traffic.”

    Well Rob we can disagree about this. It’s not just the traffic from search. I don’t think you realize how minimal the revenue from subscriptions are relative to the ad revenue. I ran a magazine with 300,000 audited monthly circulation. Our “subscribers” were just a way offsetting the mailing cost to them.

  • Rob

    If it’s an additional million people, I agree, they will probably make it up in ad revenue, but the numbers I’ve seen tossed around are 10-15 million. That’s a lot of people and I question whether that many people want the kind of content the WSJ provides.

    But all that aside… don’t you think there is a valid case for saying that if you are ad supported, there is a tendency to do whatever it takes to boost that traffic number, even if it means catering more to content of mass market interest?

    Surely we can agree that an article on new FASB standards is not going to get 15MM views. So the question is, why will the WSJ continue to write those types of articles? They have no incentive for it anymore.

  • Sure they have an incentive – Their readership commands a very high premimum. They aren’t going to lose it.