Sunday, January 27, 2008

Having your cake and eating it

It seems Rupert Murdoch isn't crazy after all. He'd like to hang onto as much as possible of the $65 million in subscription revenue the Wall Street Journal pulls in annually. Murdoch announced last year, after acquiring the crown jewel in business journalism, that he was going to tear down the subscription wall and make WSJ Online content free for all in pursuit of increased revenues from advertising. But it seems the Dirty Digger would like to have it both ways, as much as possible, adding last week that some things online will remain available only to subscribers.

Mr. Murdoch made his latest comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in answering a question. "We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of The Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering" for subscribers, he said. "The really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive."

The partial climb-down came the same days as news that readership of online newspapers jumped six percent in 2007, to 60 million visitors per month. The jump for December was nine perent over the same month a year earlier, boding even better for online journalism. Now if only advertising revenue follows suit the woes that seem to beset the newspaper business won't seem quite so severe. The head of the Newspaper Association of America, which sponsored the report by Neilsen Online, gave his best sales pitch in delivering the news.

"Newspapers' expanding print and digital portfolio offers value to advertisers by providing a targeted, comprehensive menu of choices for today's discriminating consumer," said NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm. "As our industry's transition accelerates, it is clear consumers recognize newspapers as
their trusted source of information in an increasingly digital environment."

The thing to watch will be what happens to advertising revenues, both in print and online, as the reession deepens and the full magnitude of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco reverberates throughout the economy.