WSJ: We charge, so why don’t you?

Not a day goes by without someone adding their thoughts to the growing pile of opinion about what newspapers should do when it comes to charging for content online. The latest treatise comes from L. Gordon Crovitz, a columnist with the Wall Street Journal — whose opinion is notable if only because his publication is one of the few that actually does so successfully. Not only that, but Crovitz is also the former publisher of the WSJ and the former head of Dow Jones Consumer Media Group, and helped launch the Factiva information group. As he describes it:

For a decade beginning in the late 1990s, I was the Dow Jones executive chiefly charged with defending the paid-subscription business model of The Wall Street Journal’s Web site. The skunk at every Internet-bubble-era garden party, the Journal team was often told we “just didn’t get it,” that information wants to be free and the paid model was idiotic.

Is there just a little gloating there, underneath the surface? Possibly — and perhaps some of it is justified. In any case, Crovitz wants to make the case that newspaper publishers gave up too easily in the fight to charge for content, and that they need to think about how to make their content worth paying for instead of whining about it quite so much. And he notes that there are many examples of publications and services that get people to pay for what they produce:

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

How the WSJ failed the Web 2.0 test

Traditional media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have begun to use some of the tools of social media — blogs, Facebook pages, even Twitter accounts. But they seem a lot less eager to adopt some of social media’s core principles, including a commitment to the two-way nature of the medium and all that it represents. This means a lot more than just talking about “the conversation” and how great it is to get links or comments. It’s about taking those comments seriously, responding to them regardless of whether they are positive or negative, and incorporating that approach into the way you do your job. It’s about looking at “journalism,” broadly-speaking, as a process rather than an artifact.

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Fred is right and Rupert is wrong

As the Wall Street Journal is breathlessly reporting, Rupert “Just Try and Stop Me” Murdoch has apparently relented on his much-discussed plans to open up the Journal’s content and get rid of the paywall, and will be keeping some subscription products (and boosting the price for them, oddly enough) while letting more stuff move outside the wall. In other words, he will be trying to have his cake and eat it too.

I know that there are a lot of smart people out there who believe that you can do both — one of them being Rex Hammock, who has been predicting for some time that Rupert would see the light and go for a mixed strategy. I would not claim to have the expertise in publishing that Rex has, but I do know one thing: the kind of content that newspapers produce, in virtually all cases including the esteemed WSJ, is either a commodity (in which case charging for it is nonsensical) or something with added value. In both cases I think it benefits the paper to release it into the wild.

Obviously if it’s a commodity then it should be free. But I would argue that it’s almost more important for the added-value content to be free as well. And here I am in violent agreement with Fred Wilson of A VC, who says that he believes Rupert has made a big mistake by keeping content locked up. As he puts it in his post on the topic:

“Here’s the deal. Digital media is not about scarcity and never will be. That’s the old media game. Online it’s about ubiquity, about being part of the conversation, about links, authority, page rank, and if you are a news organization like the WSJ – its about anchoring the discussion.”

This is the same debate that the New York Times went through, and it eventually decided to get rid of the wall. Was it not making money? No, it was making plenty of money — but that pie wasn’t growing. And it certainly wasn’t growing as quickly as the NYT’s traffic has been since it removed the wall. I think the Journal would be wise to trade the bird it has in its hand for two or three (or twelve) in the bush.

Digging a hole in the WSJ pay wall

Well, Rupert Murdoch has been dropping pretty big hints that the Wall Street Journal pay wall is a-comin’ down pretty soon — and it shouldn’t be too hard to make it crumble, since Digg just put a pretty big hole in it. As Kevin Rose describes in his rather economical post on the subject (I counted 38 words, not including his name), articles at the Journal will start carrying the Digg button, and any stories that get Dugg will be free for readers who come from the social-bookmarking site. Mike Arrington has a slightly longer post over at Techcrunch.

Free means never having to say you’re sorry

Not surprisingly, the decision by the New York Times to tear down its pay wall has fueled speculation that Rupert Murdoch will do the same thing with the Wall Street Journal — speculation that has been around for awhile now, primarily because ol’ Rupe keeps talking about it (of course, knowing Murdoch, that’s probably just a way of keeping the media writing about him).

I’ve written about this before, after the Australian billionaire took over the Journal, and I hope by now I’ve made it clear that I think free makes the most sense not just for the Times or the Journal but for virtually every newspaper including the one I work for. There are those — like former journalists Mark Potts at Recovering Journalist and Dorian Benkoil at Corante who disagree, and think that subscription is a model that works, but they are wrong.

I should clarify that. They are right in the short term, but wrong in the long term. As the Times has admitted, charging people for content created a subscription business that made money, but one that wasn’t growing very much (if at all). I’m not privy to the numbers at the Globe and Mail, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we have seen a similar pattern. Steve Boriss argues that this could be because the NYT did it wrong, but I’m not convinced.

Scott Rosenberg of Salon, among others, has written about the difficulties of financing a large newsroom through online revenues only, and that is definitely a concern. But I believe — as Jay Rosen and other smart people do — that being part of the online ecosystem (which includes permanent links to archived stories) is going to be a lot more valuable in the long run than charging people a nickel or two to read the paper online every day.