Online Journal Goes Free for a Week

Dow Jones & Co.'s Wall Street Journal Online will make its news Web site free Nov. 8-12 to entice non-subscribers to its service.

The week's free sampling is the first in seven years since the Online Journal at surpassed the 100,000-paid-subscriber milestone in April 1997. The current endeavor, called Open House, comes as the Online Journal records 701,000 paid subscribers worldwide.

The announcement was made yesterday.

“What we're doing during this special period is that anyone can browse the site without going through the registration process,” said Todd Larsen, president of consumer electronic publishing at Dow Jones, New York.

The Online Journal's standard two-week trial subscription requires users to register with name, contact information and credit card details. Users can cancel after two weeks.

With Open House, readers can browse news reports, columns and content from The Wall Street Journal print franchises worldwide. They can use the financial and personal tools as well as access corporate data. Articles more than 30 days old are not available for free.

“This trial period is an opportunity for us to showcase the site to lots of consumers who may not have taken the chance to learn about,” Larsen said. “Our research shows the more consumers learn about our product, the more they subscribe. Because we're a paid site, some people don't necessarily come to try us.”

The company claims that in the past year, more than 90 percent of people who sampled the Online Journal's content through a trial subscription became paying subscribers.

An annual subscription to the Online Journal costs $79, up from $59 in July 2002. Print Journal subscribers pay $39 a year for the online product, up from the prior rate of $29.

According to the 2003 Wall Street Journal Subscriber Study, users say they average 34 minutes daily reading These readers see not only content, but also ads from companies such as Ameritrade, Porsche and Computer Associates.

Ad revenue matters to the Online Journal, Larsen said. But subscriptions are equally critical.

“We continue to focus on subscription revenue as a key driver for the overall business, and we're continually trying to get the subscriber base as engaged as possible — reading us more and more,” he said. “A key component of that is continuing to grow the total number of subscribers. We want to continue to grow while maintaining strong usage and a strong price point.”

Open House will be advertised on more than a dozen relevant Web sites. Ads also will run in Dow Jones media like The Wall Street Journal, Barron's magazine and The Wall Street Journal Radio Network.

The Online Journal is the world's largest paid subscription news site. The publication's tailoring of financial news and the lack of major international financial news media, aside from London's Financial Times, contribute to its status.

“The critical distinction is, we're not going down a free route,” Larsen said. “This is a promotion. The fact that we're doing this free for a week is that it's drawing attention. Like any business that's trying to draw new customers into a franchise, we want to find ways to draw consumer attention, too, and make them come and try us.

“I don't want the impression that this is second-guessing our business model. We could not be more happy with our business model.”

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