Wake Up, WSJ: Paid Content Is Dead

The Wall Street Journal will launch its first new design in six years Tuesday, but its biggest flaw will still be present: The paper will continue to charge for much of its content.

The Journal‘s new look may appear more modern, but the principles behind it could not be more antiquated. In our information-driven era, the subscription-based news service appears ostensibly misguided and misplaced.

Consider this: Only 5 percent of the WSJ‘s average Web audience pays for a subscription. Ninety-five percent of the visitors, then, are non-paying. Yet, the Journal is restricting its most unique (and thus highest traffic potential) content to a tiny fraction of its audience.

Imagine how much more overall traffic the site could pull in if those non-paying visitors had the added value of that enterprise content within the wsj.com site. Instead, they constantly have the experience of clicking onto something that they can’t read, getting frustrated, and then going elsewhere to find the information. More site-direct traffic, of course, equals more advertising dollars — and with the kind of high-paying advertisers a brand like the Wall Street Journal could secure, that means a lot more cash ultimately flowing through its coffers.

Information these days is free for the taking, and trying to fight it only hurts media companies in the end. Unless Lars Ulrich is on the Journal‘s advisory board, I find it hard to comprehend why the paper is reinforcing stereotypes about old media’s lack of understanding of new technology and 2.0-style thinking. In an era when so many newspapers are struggling to stay alive, this type of non-adaptive thinking just seems counterintuitive.

I guess the one good thing, though, is that the new design does more clearly mark the subscription-only content — which will make things far easier for those of us with the handy knowledge of how to access it without paying. (Hint: Headline. Google News. Search.)