Ever since Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp purchased Dow Jones, speculations ran rampant that Wall Street Journal online would become free. Alas, Murdock came out and dispelled that rumor a few months back. WSJ will remain behind the pay wall — you want access? Pay up!
There are actually good reasons for not making the site freely accessible. The most obvious reason is the diversified revenue stream. Subscription is easy money since most people, once they signed up, don’t bothered to cancel their subscription. But the more important reason, in my opinion, is that the pay wall ensures users on the WSJ online site are qualified audience. With this high quality audience (mostly bankers, business men and women, high net worth individuals, etc), they can charge advertisers a high premium (CPM in online marketing speak) for the privilege to speak to them. That is big money!
Today, I read an article that stated WSJ actually can be had for free, if only you know how. The article claimed that none of it is illegal, which is a good thing. Briefly, the article said that many of what’s behind the pay wall can actually be accessed without subscription if you click to them from news search engines and link aggregators such as Google News and Digg. Whatever else you cannot read through this method you can try to access by using a Firefox plug-in that spoofs the referral traffic. Both methods take very little effort to implement.
The question that immediately came to mind is this: If the intention is to keep the WSJ content behind the pay wall, why make it so easy to break through it? I think I know the answer. The subscription wall is just that — a barrier. With so much easily accessible free content, if you require just a bit more work to get to your content, most people would not bother to try to overcome that barrier. Usually that is a bad thing because people would just go to your competitors’ sites. In WSJ’s case, it’s a good one because the barrier ensures that only those who truly want to access the content will get to them. WSJ keep their qualified audience and thus their high CPM (which is their bread and butter anyway).
Now that’s one company who knows its audience and how to monetize the audience while expanding its reach. Brilliant!