Friday, February 25, 2005

Losing relevance online

For so long the Wall Street Journal has been held up as a successful model of how to make the web pay. Not only is it an authoritative, well written and well edited mass circulation business paper, but it seemed to have its act together online as well. Its online subscription policy was seen as being a smart move for a publication that "owned" business and finance reporting in the US market. Accordingly it could charge for access. News, on the other hand, is too easily available to charge for.

But maybe the silver web lining in the WSJ cloud has tarnished. Writing in Wired, Adam L Penenberg says:

"Since most people refuse to pay for WSJ stories, most bloggers are reluctant to link to them. It also has an impact on anyone who uses the web for research -- and there are a lot of us. As importantly, the next generation of readers is growing up by accessing news over the internet, and one place they are not surfing to is With their habits being formed now, there is little chance the Journal will become part of their lives, either now or in the future.

As a result, there is a meme that has begun to take hold that questions the Journal's long-term relevancy. It began, I believe, last fall with John Battelle, founder of the defunct Industry Standard, who realized he couldn't remember the last time he had read The Wall Street Journal, even though he is a subscriber. Since he couldn't share links with his community (read: bloggers), he ended up passively boycotting it. Battelle suggested the Journal partially open up its doors to bloggers by allowing them to link to specific stories, which they could share with their readers, but if they wanted to access any other part of the site, they'd have to pay up like everybody else.

J.D. Lasica, a former editor for The Sacramento Bee, followed up with a blog post entitled, "When publications remove themselves from the conversation," in which he confessed that he planned to let his Journal subscription run out because he couldn't link to his favorite writers. He believes the Journal, with its "walled garden" policy, is shutting off its site to newcomers."
A similar thing has happened to the Australian Financial Review and Penenberg's conclusion about the Wall Street Journal could easily apply to the AFR:

"What it needs is a new online strategy. The Journal should take the bold step of jettisoning its subscriber model and open up its archive to the public. In the end, it would make up the loss of subscriber revenue with money from advertising, which has been growing briskly. Sure, it might take a while -- perhaps many years -- but this is the only way for it to ensure its long-term survival."

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