This brings up an interesting discussion, and one that could have major consequences. Unlike most sites that have tried (and failed) to charge annual subscription fees, Dow Jones & Co. (NYSE: DJ)'s Wall Street Journal Online has proved able to successfully do just that. The site pulls in $79 for an annual subscription from its estimated 1 million users. That's a nice little chunk of change that Mr. Murdoch is considering throwing away.
But would he really be throwing away anything? That is where the debate comes into play. How many internet users would start to use Wall Street Journal Online for their primary news service if they were allowed unlimited free access? My opinion is that the number would be large, much larger than its current numbers, and as we all know... visitors equal revenues. In this case, visitors would equal huge advertising revenues.
If it were up to me, it would be a no-brainer. There are so many venues for obtaining news in today's world I find it hard to believe that anyone pays for an annual Wall Street Journal Online subscription. If i had to guess, I would estimate that a sizable chunk of the site's current subscribers are companies using soft dollars to pay for these services, and only a small portion are actual normal, everyday users like you and me. I could be wrong on this, but I doubt it.
From my own personal experience, I find at least four or five times a week I see a headline to a story pointing to Wall Street Journal Online that I would love to go read, but once there, I get the one paragraph teaser and then the "log in to read full story" option. What do I do? I go to the free online sites and look for the story there. I am sure I am not alone in this.
Perhaps I am just biased, and perhaps I just am too cheap to dish out the $79 to read what the site has to say, who knows? But I see nothing but upside should Mr. Murdoch open up the site to us all. What are your thoughts?
Michael Fowlkes has worked as a stock trader for seven years and spent the last two years working as an analyst for the online investment advisory service Investor's Observer.