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WSJ to Introduce Micro-Payments, Premium Subscriptions Online?

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In an article at the Financial Times today, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson and Kenneth Li report that News Corp. is planning to introduce micro-payments for individual articles, plus premium subscriptions, to the Wall Street Journal’s Web site this year.

They call it "a milestone in the news industry’s race" to find better online business models.

“A sophisticated micro-payments service” will launch this autumn, Robert Thomson, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of the Journal, told the Financial Times.

FT comments: "The move will position the Journal as the first big newspaper title to adopt a model many are cautiously studying as they seek to reduce their dependence on plunging advertising revenues.

"It comes as John Kerry, the senator leading congressional hearings on the future of journalism, told the FT it was conceivable that publishers could be given limited exemption from antitrust laws to discuss online models."

Thomson said the Journal saw an opportunity in its U.S. metropolitan rivals’ weakness, adding: “We’re going to move in on each of the big cities.”

More from FT: "It has begun marketing campaigns in cities such as Detroit and San Francisco, where local publications are struggling, having moved to broaden the title’s appeal by playing up local political and sports coverage on its website.

"Several newspapers, hoping to replicate the success of business newspapers in charging for web content, are working with Journalism Online, a venture developing micro-payments and subscriptions."

Mr. Thomson said the Journal was developing its own system to charge small sums to occasional users who might not pay more than $100 a year for a WSJ.com subscription.

Pricing for individual articles and for premium subscriptions had yet to be decided, he said, but would be “rightfully high”.

The Journal has raised average print subscription prices 21 per cent since News Corp’s 2007 takeover, but saw advertising fall a third in the first quarter.

Its premium plan will focus on readers interested in energy, commodities, wealth management and other niches.

Premium subscribers will have web access to Dow Jones newswire stories, representing a “consumerisation” of the group’s products for companies.