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WSJ’s New Business Model: Write Once, Charge Three Times

by Frank Strong

WSJ-business-model-write-once-charge-three-times

Despite the commentary over the demise of newspapers, The Wall Street Journal has been almost stand-alone in its ability to retain or grow subscribers. As a daily reader of The Journal, I believe the reasons why are quite clear: it hires great journalists, provides objective reporting and provides content readers can only find in The Journal.

However, late tonight, I was perusing my print edition for September 16, 2009, I found an article in the Marketplace section, buried at the bottom of page B5, that read:

“Separately, Mr. Murdoch said The Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corp., will start charging users for accessing the paper on mobile devices such as Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry smart phones and Apple Inc.’s iPhone. He said newspaper subscribers would pay $1 a week for mobile access, while others would pay $2 a week.”

Seriously? The Journal plans to nickel and dime me over the ability read content on a Blackberry?

I already subscribe to both print and online versions of The Journal and I think there’s a credible argument to be made that says, I’m paying for that news twice already. In fairness, the online version does provide extra services, for example it allows me to search archives, bookmark articles I’d like to save on Delicious or share a good read with my peers. As a customer, I see the value and recognize the associate costs.

However, if I’m already paying for an online subscription, what difference does it make which device or application I choose to access that content? Should I pay more if I access the content on a laptop with an air-card? Should I submit a micro-payment for an RSS feed to Netvibes or Google Reader? Should I add a nickel for a click-through on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Digg?

It seems to me the WSJ’s new business model is write once and charge three times. I’m a good customer, a paying customer, and quite frankly Mr. Murdoch, I won’t have it: I’d rather take my subscription elsewhere than pony up another buck to glimpse a headline on my Blackberry. It’s not the money — it’s the point.

Postscript:  This post was originally written in 2009 and today in 2015, that pricing strategy is gone; online is online, no matter the device.  And I haven’t own a Blackberry in about as many years, although I did buy a modest 20 shares of BBBY stock when it dropped to six bucks and change.  As of today, the company is sitting on some $3 billion in cash and still owns a viable network and software business.

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