WSJ: Won’t Be As Free As We Thought

Not long after his purchase of the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, Rupert Murdoch hinted that he’d open up the entire WSJ.com for free access. The majority of the site has been completely locked down to subscribers who pay a $99 subscription fee. But as other online newspaper subscription plans fail (notably the New York Times’ TimesSelect), most suspected Murdoch would open WSJ.com for everyone for free.

But now Murdoch is saying he might not after all. This, from TechCrunch:

Although the full details of the plan are not clear, Murdoch said that much more of the site would be offered for free, however “the really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive.”

I’m a big fan of free access to online content. Daily business news, weekly print content, blogs and many searchable databases on ArkansasBusiness.com, for example, are open to anyone. Downloadable spreadsheet versions of lists and articles that are more than two months old require payment, however.

As for the WSJ, what we’ll probably see is that commodity content (news that you can pretty get via other news services) will become free, while the WSJ’s more specialized research and opinion will remain under a subscription model. Unlike TimeSelect, which put many of its top columnists under lock and key, the WSJ’s method will probably be more successful. The paper already has a long, successful track record of charging for content (a rarity in the industry), and its niche audience is more likely to pay for the WSJ’s one-of-a-kind business news and research.

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