Murdoch ponders ad-supported free Journal online

wsj.com front page - June 8, 2007
— WSJ.com, subscription-free under Murdoch?

The Wall Street Journal website has posted a partial transcript of a 90-minute interview with Rupert Murdoch, the man aiming to take over the Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones.

That takeover now appears to be just a matter of time, as acknowledged in the introduction to the transcript:

Since his surprise $5 billion bid became public last month, it has touched off an intense debate over whether he will preserve the independence of the paper’s news operations.

The use of “will” rather than “would” suggests that Murdoch’s News Corp will succeed in buying Dow Jones, at least in the opinion of a Journal editor.

In the interview, Murdoch indicated he would consider removing subscriptions fees from wsj.com, a news site renowned as one of the few that makes substantial revenue by charging for access. Here’s the relevant section of the interview: 

WSJ: Tell us what you would do… Are there changes you would like to see at the Journal, improve it?

Mr. Murdoch: Not at all.

WSJ: Some people would say the front page might be boring.

Mr. Murdoch: The front page is not boring. Absolutely not.

WSJ: Then what’s the opportunity for you? Digital?

Mr. Murdoch: I think it’s in the digital area, digital and TV. And I think we’ve got to pour some money into digital. We’ve got to do a lot of things there…

There’s so much going on on the Internet. We’ve got to find new ways and new business models to get revenues. Or else the world is going to be owned by Google. I was asked at this investment thing I had to go to, what competitors I see I would have in five years time. Globally. I said I’m sure they’ll be a lot of them. I know one is Google. It’s just getting so strong, so powerful. And I know the guys, and like them. They’re friends of mine. But it is a big fact of life. They sort of just hit the mother lode of search advertising and they’re just destroying Microsoft search, hurting Yahoo’s and making others irrelevant. I don’t understand the technologies but whatever their technology is, it seems to be producing a much higher margin of profit.

What are they going to do next? I saw in the New York Times today they’re devising certain, a lot of computer applications which would directly challenge Microsoft, which they’ll give away. So it’s going to be very interesting. Four or five years ago we were all convinced Microsoft was going to take over the world. Now we’re all convinced it’s Google. But that’s another subject.

The Internet is a great leveler. All newspapers count for less these days. So … as far as I’m concerned, I want to drive News Corp, as I’ve said, into being the greatest content company, whether it’s in news, opinions, writing or whether it be film or television. I mean there are so many new pipes in how you deliver these things. And so on. We’ll just have to use them all and see what’s economical. I had a study done, and I think you’ve had many more studies done down there. What if they made the Wall Street Journal free instead of charging 80 bucks?

WSJ: You mean WSJ.com?

Mr. Murdoch: You’d have 10 times as many visitors and lets say five times as much advertising. But you’d lose the other, it works out at about a push…. So, the problem with a regular newspaper is how do they replace or hold their revenue models. It’s not all been about the Internet. Change of lifestyle, people’s time. Circulation really has been going down for 20 years before the Internet. And on top of this, in this country you have the impact of the discounters. The Targets and the Wal-Marts and what they’ve done to the department stores… So what’s happened at papers like the LA Times. Used to see pages and pages of five different department stores. Now you get a couple of pages from one …

An insider’s look at the decline of Dow Jones

How did the once-mighty Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, end up in Rupert Murdoch’s takeover plans?

Here’s part of the story, from former Journal reporter Dean Starkman:

…soon after I arrived in 1996, [Publisher Peter] Kann’s board announced a $650 million plan to fix Telerate, internally called “Rolling Thunder,” which inevitably became known as “Rolling Blunder,” and which executives quoted in Fortune described variously as “schizophrenic,” “total confusion,” and worse. Customers complained that using “Dow Jones Markets” products was like buying a car you had to assemble yourself.

Starkman, who worked at the Journal from 1996 to 2004, chronicles the Dow Jones “tragedy” at CJR Daily.

Examining the Murdoch record

Rupert Murdoch’s record as proprietor of newspapers in Britain and the US may undermine his assurances of editorial continuity for his latest takeover target, the Wall Street Journal.

David Carr, writing at nytimes.com, assesses the media mogul’s actions, as well as his words, and looks to his possible intentions for the Journal:

There is business synergy in the deal — between the News Corporation’s proposed Fox Business cable TV channel and the Journal, for example. But far more important is Mr. Murdoch’s own version of synergy, which puts business, media and government all in a single vertical. Owning the Journal would give him a powerful leverage in all three.