Murdoch's free online dilemma

Rupert Murdoch is facing a dilemma, even before he takes over the Wall Street Journal. He has to decide whether to continue charging for The Journal’s website. The site, which has been in operation for more than ten years has almost a million subscribers.

Making it free would cost The Journal about $50 million in subscribers’ fees – but might result in bigger ad income., That, it seems, is Rupert Murdoch’s view. And his inclination. He did admit, this week, that he had not made a firm decision. But a free site, he conceded, was his likely decision., ‘It’s on the front burner’he said.

Oddly his comments came just as the NY Times announced it is giving up charging for its Internet service which it launched two years ago, and which is estimated to have been bringing in about $10 million a year. Times Select, as it was called, gave subscribers – for an annual fee of just under $50 – access to the paper’s top columnists and its archives dating back to 1851,

The Time’s decision means that the WSJ is – for the moment anyway – the only major newspaper in the US charging for online access to most of its contents. The Times is the latest in a string of newspapers in the US to abandon attempts to generate subscription revenue on-line,

Apart from The Journal, the only leading newspaper to continue charging for access to its website is The Financial Times which charges for certain portions of its website.

And there are no plans, for the moment, to make it completely free insisted a spokesman for Pearson, the FT’s publisher.

Subscriptions to the FT’s website have lately risen to almost 100,000 – up l2 per cent from a year ago. But both the WSJ and the FT are regarded as specialist publications whose websites have special appeal to Wall Street and American financial and corporate executives.

Murdoch believes, he has told associates, that making the WSJ site free would bring in enough ad revenue to offset the loss of subscription income.

Meanwhile the WSJ is expected to be a major source for the new Fox TV Business Network which News Corp will be launching in the US next month

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