In circ: Piecemeal payments for niche coverage could work

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The Financial Times ran a story Monday detailing the Wall Street Journal's new plan to charge users for online content. “Micro-payments,” or piecemeal charges for individual articles, will power the new revenue system, according to the plan, and I think it has a good chance of success.

The WSJ should be able to squeeze some money from its online content as long as it focuses on the right content. Since Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the venerable business brand in 2007, it has slowly but surely expanded its coverage to be more like, well, every other newspaper (not necessarily the best role models in this economy). Instead of focusing on the business coverage that execs craved, Murdoch's WSJ brought in sports and fashion — coverage available for free all over the Internet, though perhaps not always as well-written as the Journal's.

The business coverage is still great, though, and that's where the payment plan should hit its mark. As the FT article explains, “Its [the WSJ's] premium plan will focus on readers interested in energy, commodities, wealth management and other niches.” No sports and lifestyles here, folks, just the in-depth business reporting that is actually worth paying for because you can't find it anywhere else.

A lot of the stories on are already behind a firewall, accessible only to subscribers, so the paper has proven that it can get people to pay for premium content. The new plan upholds subscriber access but also stands to make a buck (and coerce contact data) from those are interested in business news from some industries but who don't feel the need to pay for the Journal's full range of coverage.

Does this mean the Journal has found the secret to online revenue? Time will tell, but taking this piece-by-piece niche approach seems like a good first step in the battle to entice payments from fragmented Web audiences.


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