What’s Going on with WSJ Pricing?

“You know nothing of my work!”

(Read below for CJR tie-in.)

A month ago, as I wrote earlier, I was willing to pay $10/month to subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle. I canceled that subscription last week, after the release of the WSJ iPhone application that provides free access to all WSJ content.

The iPhone app carries ads at the bottom of the screen, but I don’t mind. I also get audio and video content from WSJ through the app, too. Meanwhile, Subscribing to WSJ.com currently costs $89 per year. ($99 per year if you want the print edition, too.) And, as I noted earlier, WSJ’s own subscription page currently doesn’t even mention subscribing via Kindle.

Apparently WSJ plans to start charging for some of its iPhone app-delivered content at some point. Wired.com reports:

“There is free, and then there is free, apparently. A Dow Jones spokeswoman wrote to Wired.com Thursday to say that the company does intend to charge for some content consumed on smartphones ‘so we have a consistent experience across multiple platforms,’ though the company is ‘still exploring its options’ and isn’t saying when that might happen. They would offer ‘both free and subscription content, so the idea is to mirror the experience on the site,’ the spokeswoman said.”

“…Eight months after it released its Blackberry app Dow is still saying that ‘Full access to subscriber content (is free) for a limited time only.’ There is a free mobile site that has a large sampling of the Journal’s content. …We’ll see if the almost certain bad will of a giveth and taketh away revenue model is worth trying to put the content genie back in the bottle.”

WSJ.com founding editor and publisher Neil Budde (who just joined Daily Me) recently exploded some common myths about WSJ.com’s pricing model — a nuanced history that often gets oversimplified.

Still, I think Printcasting founder Dan Pacheco got it right last night on Twitter: “Content pricing must be consistent across platforms. And it shows how charging for print will get more awkward day by day.”

…After I originally published the above story in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits yesterday, Ryan Chittum of Columbia Journalism Review took what I said as an excuse to rally for WSJ to “hold the line” on charging for its content.

I found this very amusing…

As I commented on the CJR piece, it seems to me that the WSJ iPhone and Blackberry applications indicate that the WSJ may be exploring the value of free content, without admitting that’s what they’re doing. Personally, I doubt their paid content model will last. I suspect it will get whittled away over time, to be replaced by various services. (Like, even, selling wine. No kidding.)

It’s worth repeating an anecdote I recounted last month in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. Bill Grueskin (former managing editor of WSJ.com and now dean of academic affairs for Columbia University’s journalism school) related in Reflections of a Newsosaur on Mar. 22:

One day last month, a Columbia journalism student asked me in class why WSJ.com had started as a paid site. This moment reminded me of the scene in Annie Hall (about two minutes into this), where Woody Allen produces Marshall McLuhan to refute (OK, I get the irony) a pompous Columbia instructor pontificating about the media.

At the class, I turned to my co-instructor, Peter Kann, former CEO of Dow Jones and the person ultimately responsible for the paid strategy.

“I made the site paid because I was ignorant,” Kann told the class. “I didn’t know any better. I just thought people should pay for content.”

‘Nuff said. Well, and then there’s that video I posted above. Yeah. Plus all the Columbia j-school connections bouncing around here. Coincidence? I think not 😉

…Anyway, Zach Seward of Nieman Labs noted in a comment at Tidbits: “This interview I did with Alan Murray, executive editor of The Wall Street Journal Online, might help clarify things a little bit. It’s about the concept behind the WSJ iPhone app. At the end of the video, he says:

“Inititally, it will be free, as is the BlackBerry app, but the ultimate plan is to pattern those mobile devices off of the website, which is to say, we’ll give you all the political coverage, the opinion coverage, the arts and leisure coverage, and a certain number of the big stories of the day for free. We’ll give you a snippet, a preview of any story for free. But if you want access to the full depth and breadth of our coverage, you’re gonna have to pay for it on the the iPhone on the BlackBerry, just as you would on the website.”

The new Wall Street Journal iPhone app from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo

My response: OK, let’s see you do that. If the WSJ is so dedicated to its high-profile paid content model, then why make the content completely free on the mobile apps at all? I strongly suspect what’s going on here is that WSJ is using mobile apps to quietly explore free-content business models, without admitting that’s what they’re doing. Time will tell.

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