Why Wall Street Journal Online is Still Subscriber-Only
Freakonomics author Steve Levitt wonders why the Wall Street Journal, virtually alone among the world’s major dailies, continues to keep most of its online content behind a subscription wall, guaranteeing virtually no one will see it.
Is it that there is something different about their readership that makes free online a bad idea for the WSJ, but a good idea for others? I doubt it. My guess is that either it is a good idea to give free access or it isn’t. Either the WSJ is making a mistake or other newspapers that do give stuff away are making a mistake.
Tyler Cowen argues that the WSJ (and Financial Times) are simply different animals:
[I]n a given WSJ issue, there will be a small number of wonderful bits, and a whole lot most people don’t care about, like the notices of the debentures. A free web site would make it too easy to cherry-pick the interesting content, strip it down, and reproduce it and circulate it without the ads.
So, translating from the economist-ese, it’s because the WSJ mostly sucks but the few bits of it that don’t suck are really, really valuable to a handful of people whereas other papers have lots of mildly interesting content but nothing so unique that many people would pay for it? That sounds about right to me.