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July 03, 2008



Well of course the WSJ wouldn't have the same amount of views as the NYT if they were free. The WSJ doesn't have a style section or a food section or a weekly magazine or investigative political journalism (at least not to the same extent), all of which drive some portion of the traffic. Take a look at the NYT most e-mailed and ask how many of those articles would you expect in the WSJ? Maybe 1 or 2? Why are they even comparable in the way you've presented?

I'm not saying you're conclusion is wrong. I have no doubt that it isn't. I'm just not sure the argument (w.r.t the NYT) is relevant. I think a consideration of the differing demographics is critically important to the analysis.

Vijay Goel, M.D.

As a subscriber to the online-only version of the Journal, I actually hope that Murdock continues in the paid model...I like the incentives it aligns him with and it makes sense if you think about the Total Cost of Ownership and the target audience.

My time is pretty valuable to me, and the problem I face with much of "Free" content is that it takes a long time to find good content that is reliably produced (for instance, how often is your blog updated?). I want in-depth coverage and perspectives in areas that most consumers could care less about. For me, paying for an aggregator of executive-level business content is cheaper than trying to sort through mass-media content to find it on other sites (Harvard Business Review is way more expensive). I even pay for quality reporting on my alma mater's sports teams (UCLA Bruins!), as there's no way a niche subject like my team could otherwise receive the type of coverage I enjoy.

If the WSJ goes free, that means it will have to increasingly cater to the mass market (or at least accumulate more folks in its target demographics). This is likely to change the editorial tone and change the type of content covered while bombarding me with ads.

From my perspective, its cheaper for me to just pay for what I want so I can move on quickly to my core business needs every morning. I think that you'll find business models targeting specific audiences move in that direction as the internet matures and focus/quality become the scarce commodities.

I predict that pay for enhanced access targeted at niche audiences will become a broader trend. Its been alive in nightclubs VIP lines forever. It was part of the first class travel model and has been extended to Clear. Hell, I've bet my life's savings on the trend, as I'm building a scaled solution to get enhanced visibility and access to niche services in health care (long waits in waiting rooms or appointment queues is a pricing (insurance payment) issue, not a necessary part of medicine and health providers are just as varied in their approaches as anyone else--people just have no way of finding out today).

Francis Hwang

Barry Ritholz addresses this at length, here:


Regarding free vs. pay, this passage from Ritholz's post is particularly interesting:

"The WSJ is, at present, a must read news source for the financial industry. At our NYU lecture, it was noted that nearly half of WSJ 2 million subscriptions are expensed -- meaning, the subs are a tool for the employee paid for by the office. NYT subs, by comparison, are expensed in the single digit percentages."

This is why the WSJ might conceivably hold on to the pay model: It can get its revenue from a vertical market that's willing to pay for perceived higher quality. Like Dr. Vijay, above. Or, like anybody who subscribes to HBO because they think The Sopranos or The Wire are way better than Dancing With the Stars.

In such a model, the metric of influence is different as well. The old WSJ wouldn't care about reduced linkage from blogs et al, because they care less about online conversation and more about talk around the water-cooler in the Morgan Stanley fixed-income department. In many ways, the world of finance does not invite broader discussion from the overall public: It's a community with a high cost of entry, in many ways subtle and obvious. Ritholz himself routinely links to WSJ articles behind the pay-wall, assuming, quite reasonably, that much of his audience will be able to follow those links.

Of course, that's the old WSJ. Looks like the new Murdoch WSJ may be slipping out of its niche, trying to take on the NYT for mindshare in New York and in the country, which might be good for Murdoch's ego as a world-shaking plutocrat, but might not be so good for business. Time will tell.

Me, I'm happy to read the Economist and pay full price for it, not because I work in econ or finance (I don't) but because I think it's phenomenal writing, the sort that's hard to get for free. Of course, I also pay for The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Wired, and Harper's. And I think The Wire is the best show on TV ever, so that should tell you what sort of a snob I am.

BTW, does anyone have any concrete numbers of the NYT's actual CPM? 'Cause every time I look at their ads, they really really suck. One of their articles today on Obama and Iraq has a display ad for T-Mobile, and one of the Google ads is "10 Rules for Stomach Fat". It's like when Excite was plastered with ads for webcams, only the animation isn't so seizure-inducing, which I guess counts as progress.


I don't understand why you are trying so hard to prove that the world can have only the 'free' business model. There can be different ways to make money. Isn't embracing variety a critical element of the longtail?

Julien Couvreur

The price list shown above reminds me of the book "Predictably Irrational". One of the examples in the book was the pricing for The Economist.

The numbers were something like: Online for 60$, Paper for 150$ and Paper+Online for 150$ (same price as Paper-only).
Most people went for the expensive Paper+Online package.
The author conducted an interesting study, where only two of the above choices were shown: Online and Online+Paper. In that scenario, the Online-only deal was more popular.

That makes me think that the WSJ packages above may not be well priced...

John Wilson


I think a large number of the subscriptions are being purchased by corporations. Where I work, 400 people have access to the WSJ.com online because we have purchased some kind of "Enterprise Package." I would never pay for the WSJ otherwise, but because of this deal I log on every day.

Barry Ritholtz

Let me repeat the suggestion I made so long ago:

Move the WSJ/Dow Jones archives out from behind the subscription-only firewall. Keep the most recent WSJ subscription only -- perhaps 7 days, but certainly no more than 30 days maximum.

Monetize the older content with ads, but maintain the $60 million is subscription revenue . . . .

Rex Hammock

I've written on this topic before (http://www.rexblog.com/2008/01/24/17457/) so I won't re-hash it too much. But the fact is, WSJ.com is merely nominally behind a cost-wall. Any article a Digg user clicks is made free instantly via that channel -- and one can subscribe to an RSS feed of those articles. Granted, that's a hassle in a world where we want one-click access to everything. However, it allows WSJ to provide bloggers and Digg users with a means to link to "free" versions of any article while still marketing their subscription model.

In other words, the Digg channel effect could be part of the explanation to how "free" content is helping them continue to grow their overal traffic -- while maintaining the subscription model.

Dr Wright

If it is working for them, why change the model? Very few newspapers can make it work like that.

Dr Wright
The Wright Place TV Show

Barry Ritholtz


Its more than Digg, its Google and WSJ Mobile also . . .

Jason Armstrong

I like the pay model. The information/presentation in the WSJ, sum total, is gold. I would prefer that the masses remain ignorant in these matters, so I can stay ahead of them.

Ian Pratt

The point on revenue for paid verse free traffic is of interest. Can a good subscription site make higher revenue than a free site can make on advertising?

The comment on ease to find is also of interest, what will the consumer trend be? Will the expectation of web=free disolve as online transaction comfort improves? or will clutter on the web ultimatley dictate a need to subscribe to paid sites for quality information?

Keen to know what you think of these emerging trends

Karoly Domonyi


Your site is one of my favorites seen around blog explosion. Keep up the good work.
I enjoy reading your blog. It is great to find someone who can find the fun things in life!
I wish you all the best in all years.

With Regards,
Karoly Domonyi


These people make so much money, it pisses me off


A good observation. But with more and more data becoming freely available, segregation of good content can be achieved through paid content. Page rank is doing this presently, but it will get more difficult especially for the long tail. Would paid content then drive traffic.




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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!