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Wall Street Journal – Charging for Free Content?

By Brian | October 19, 2009 | Share on Facebook

Remember when the Wall Street Journal’s online content was free? And then they decided to start charging for it? And then it was free again? But sometimes it’s not?

As it turns out, the Wall Street Journal has implemented a rather unique, some may even say bizarre, online access policy. If you go to their website and click on an article, you have to login with a paid subscription. But if you Google a particular topic and the same article comes back as a search result, you can click through and read the entire article for free. So, in other words, you can’t read the entire Wall Street Journal on their website without paying for it, but if you were curious enough to enquire about everything in it, they will gladly share their content with you for free.

Perhaps an example would be useful. Follow along in a separate browser instance if you like:

While it seems bizarre on the surface, the rationale behind it is actually quite interesting. The Wall Street Journal sells advertising space on its website. If it required people to pay for the content, it would make money from the subscription fees, but would have to charge less for the advertising, since a much smaller number of people would see the ads. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal knows that if someone wants to read about businesses who fend off tax hits, they are much more likely to Google something like that than they are to go to the Wall Street Journal’s website and page through their archives. Since Google is a key tool in driving traffic to content, and since traffic is what yields higher advertising revenue, the Wall Street Journal has created the best of both worlds. A Google search that matches their content will still drive traffic to their site, but direct access to their articles (as you would get if you bought the paper) still requires a subscription. If you love the Wall Street Journal and wish to read it cover-to-cover (but online), then I’d recommend the subscription to you. But if you’re like me, and you just want to read a particular article or two (or ten, or twenty…) then feel free to use the above method to “skip over” the subscription requirement for each one.

Topics: Money Talk, Political Rantings, Tech Talk | No Comments »


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