News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch announced this week that he intends to make access to The Wall Street Journal’s Web site free-a move he believes will attract "large numbers" of big-spending advertisers.
"We expect to make that free, and instead of having one million [subscribers], having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth," Murdoch said.
News Corp. has signed an agreement to acquire Dow Jones & Co., and the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter. A special shareholders meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 in New York.
WSJ.com currently has about one million subscribers and generates about $50 million in annual user fees.
This move could be seen as the first step in setting up The Wall Street Journal as a direct rival to The New York Times, which is a major goal of Murdoch’s, according to observers.
"Murdoch will do anything to take market share away from the Times. He has gotten farther than anybody else and can afford to undercut anybody else," Martin Dunn, deputy publisher of the Daily News, told Crain’s New York Business back in August. "Anyone who thinks he will play by Marquess of Queensbury rules is living in a cloud-cuckoo-land."
The New York Times also opened up access to portions of its Web site. In September, the Times announced that it would stop charging its readers for access to its online subscription program TimesSelect as well as the majority of its archives.
Other weapons that could be used by the Journal to compete with the Times could include steep reductions in ad rates and direct targeting of the Times’ current advertisers.
Murdoch also outlined plans to compete last month at the annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco that included increasing the WSJ’s national and international coverage, as well as coverage of cultural issues in order to get advertisers from venues such as movie studios.
According to the Guardian Unlimited, when asked whether Murdoch was aiming to kill the Times, he replied, "That would be nice."
For more on the viability of online newspapers like the Times and WSJ, click here.
– Chandra Johnson-Greene