Second Look: Are WSJ.com Numbers Really Increasing?

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: I should have looked more closely: on reporting on WSJ.com’s subscribers numbers yesterday, I said that its subscribers numbers increased 3.9 percent (now at 671,000) over the year-ago quarter (646,000), which is technically true. But sequentially, its numbers peaked in Q4 last year, at 679,000, and has been decreasing ever since: in Q1 this year, the number declined to 675,000 and now stands at 671,000, at the end of second quarter.

What gives? Well, I tackled some of the issues back in a story I did in February: “The Innovator’s Dilemma: Where Do We Go From Here?“.

The official company line on the decline is that it can be attributed to two factors: the recessionary market in wake of the Iraq war, which “reduced the effectiveness of our marketing efforts”, according to a Dow Jones spokesperson. Another reason is the seasonality in the market: discounted student subscriptions make up for a chunk of online subscribers, and since the school is out, so are the subscribers.

The subscriber numbers for WSJ.com have by no means peaked, and the numbers will rise again in the second half of the year, for sure, assures the spokesperson.

On the other hand, the unofficial, anecdotal version is that the price increase last year in July (from $59 a year to $79 a year) may have hurt the renewal rates and new subscribe acquisitions. The launch of industry editions such as the Health Industry and Media/Marketing edition may have also meant some loss in main focus, according to an informed source in the industry.

The site has also had three changes in its publisher over the last year: founding publisher Neil Budde left last year. Scott Schulman assumed the reins, only to be moved to the print sales, and Todd Larsen took over as the publisher recently.

To fuel the fire, WSJ.com has just started promoting subscription at the earlier price of $59 a year, through direct e-mail campaigns. Yesterday I received an e-mail through the eMarketer subscriber list (and by the way, I never knew I was going to get dedicated ads when I signed up for the list), pushing the promotion.

“My name is Todd Larsen and I’m the president of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE,” the e-mail said. “I’m writing to you because even in today’s business climate I’m certain of one thing: If you try THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE for two weeks RISK-FREE you’ll want to make it part of your daily business news and information routine…. If you like THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE, (and I’m confident you will) you can get a full year for just $59. That is $20 OFF the standard price of $79 per year.”

My advice: there is a thin line between personalization and narcissism.

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