On his quarterly call with analysts, News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch said he intends to start charging people for access to their online content. He said the Wall Street Journal has proved it can be done. I wonder if he’s right. Right now you can access most of the WSJ for free. As an iPhone user I can access a good deal of WSJ content using the WSJ app on the iPhone. Also if you Google any WSJ news headline on your PC you can often see the entire article without a subscription.
Aside from the fact that the WSJ is free to many people, I also wonder what happens when he tries to take his publications behind a subscription wall. I suspect many of his readers will opt for a rival publication that doesn’t charge or for well written blogs. I also struggle to see the typical Sun reader paying a subscription. I know the news media business is struggling to find a profitable business model right now and that the subscrioptn model is an obvious place to look. I just don’t see it working for mainstream consumer publications. I can see people paying a blanket subscription in the same way they might do for cabel TV or satellite radio but for that thye need a broad range of titles to be the equivalent of channels on these properties. Murdoch is no fool and has made some shrewd moves in the media business. Launching his own media channel on the web that you can subscribe to but which contains news media from both his print AND broadcast properties. Now that I can see working if the price is right.
Pre Murdoch I heard about MySpace every week if not day in one way or another. Since Murdoch bought it, the military has banned its use by soldiers and Facebook has arrived as the latest ‘thing’ in social media. This makes we wonder about a couple of things:
1) Are social media sites a bit like search engines were back in the old days – destined to be superseded until somebody invents the Google equivalent?
2) Will Murdoch’s acquisition of the WSJ be a good thing? The apparent disappearance of MySpace is of course a PR problem. MySpace is still huge and getting bigger by all counts. It simply doesn’t get the buzz that Facebook currently enjoys. While I’d argue that Murdoch still doesn’t seem to know what do to with MySpace, it would be hard to argue that he’ll have the same challenge with the WSJ. He understands the newspaper business and will presumably leave the news side of the publication well alone. He may well change the right wing tone of the editorials but even that is debatable. He does have a challenge on his hands though. He has bought a publication, that like most other newspapers, is losing readers on a daily basis. Sure, they are acquiring some online readers but the overall picture isn’t a good one. At a certain level he will be forced to make some changes at some point, if only to make sure he can continue to generate reasonable returns. I guess the question is how long will he wait before he acts and how will he go about it?