When Pali’s Rich Greenfield sent out a note Wednesday with the eye-catching headline Wall Street Journal Now Willing to Give Away Online Access, if You Subscribe to Print Edition, several copies quickly hit my inbox from people shocked by the news. After all, Rupert Murdoch is the patron saint of premium pricing, right? Turns out Rich, who subscribes to the Wall Street Journal through Kindle, was offered a combo online-print subscription for about $10 a month, roughly $120 annually.
Well, actually, that part of it isn’t news: WSJ.com has been selling a bargain-basement combo subscription for years. When News Corp (NYSE: NWS) bought the company, a $99 offer was already in place to help move online past 1 million subs and keep the growth going in print circulation. It was a come-on for new subs, supposedly meant to convert them to the higher-priced combination paid by those of us who already belonged to the exclusive club. Murdoch grimaced at the price and suggested several times that the new sheriff in town would change things. People would have to pay more for premium content; this was at the same time as more content was going free online—- and just before the launch of free-for-now apps on the iPhone and BlackBerry.
Dow Jones Editor-in-Chief Robert Thomson said last May that the company’s micropayment plans would be aimed at people who want access to some articles but would spend less than $100 year. When I checked out the pricing then, first-time subs could get the combo offer for $140, online-only for $103; print-only for $119. A one-year discounted subscription was $349. The rate Rich was offered, as he notes, is 12 percent lower than the combo package offered on WSJ.com—and it is 71 percent less than the $18 combo rate he was offered on the 800 number.
It’s a confusing mess. A kind of shell game for any potential subscriber stupid enough to take the first offer. And Rich is right when he says, “While some will say this is hooking the consumer in, with a big price increase likely the year after the initial promo, we doubt the WSJ will have much leverage in the future.”
It’s just not new. To me, it’s more of a sign that Murdoch and company are resigned—at least for now—to the pricing policy they acquired, not the one they dreamed of.
By Staci D. Kramer