Set The WSJ Free!

There’s a discussion brewing at Techmeme on the subject of what Murdoch should do the day he takes control of the Wall Street Journal. I’ll say here publicly what I’ve been saying privately to anyone who will listen to me.

Rupert Murdoch should make the WSJ as free to use online as Google is. And he should do that the first day he owns the paper.

Why isn’t the WSJ the force in the online world that is it in the offline world? Easy, because you have to pay for its content and anyone who has spent time doing business online realizes that less than 10% of anyone’s audience (even if your audience are rich people) will pay for online content.

It seems to me that the WSJ wants its breaking stories to matter online. How often is a WSJ story the anchor to any serious blog discussion? Maybe once a week at most.

Sure, there’s 900,000 paying subscribers. And they generate something like $75mm per year in revenue. Sounds like a lot? Maybe. But Marketwatch, which Dow Jones bought in 2004, was doing $80mm in advertising revenue back then.

All the people who make the decisions at News Corp need to do is look at this chart:

Wsj_vs_nyt

The New York Times, which is mostly free and should be entirely free, does 10x the page views of the Wall Street Journal online. Ten times!

According to comScore, WSJ.com, sees 1.5mm unique visitors per month. That’s a joke. There are literally dozens of companies that have launched in the past year that see more than 1.5mm uniques per month.

I know that it’s not about 1.5mm uniques, it’s about what those 1.5mm uniques look like. And sure, the 1.5mm uniques that the WSJ sees are a strong demo.

Let’s look at Fox News, another important News Corp brand. Their services are free online and they reach over 6mm uniques per month. That’s more like it.

I think if the WSJ went free online, got its content into the dicussion broadly, got indexed highly in Google, and fully participated in the web in all respects, it could easily see 10mm uniques per month and 100mm pageviews within a year (which might generate as much as $100mm in revenues). That should be the goal, not to remain a niche player in online finance.