Blog Post

ContentBiz2005: Give Away, and for How Long?

[reporting by Dorian Benkoil]

One of the big questions at subscription publications
– including some I’ve handled – is whether to give the
site for free for a period of time: if you give people
a taste will they convert to paid? Jennifer Singer, VP
Marketing, Consumer, Electronic Publishing, Wall St.
Journal Online
, gave an emphatic yes, saying it
especially made sense to do it in a multi-pronged way,
across media (print, online, radio). Said their
one-week test in Q4 last year was very successful. For
one week, WSJ.com was free to all comers and didn’t
even require registration. There was also a give-away
(of a luxury cruise), to grab e-mail address and
re-market to them.

Singer said growth was by “leaps and bounds”, but I
couldn’t help but notice that, while everyone at
WSJ.com touts the success of the tests, and is very
proud of having gone above 700,000 subscribers, the
chart Singer showed had a bar graph in a generally up
direction with or without the promotions. Here are
some numbers so you can do the math: In Q4 of ’04 they
went to 711,673 subscribers from 700,571 in Q3 and
683,923 in Q2. That was a dip from 695,225 in Q1.
There was also a dip in Q4 of ’02, from 679,053 to
674,543.

Singer did say that they had ten times more
people subscribing from the marketing database they
gathered – which were a very good demographic – than
from their regular e-mail campaigns, that they saw a
good jump in advertising and were considering whether
to do such a campaign again, but weren’t sure if or
when they would. It took six months to organize the
campaign
, especially since sales had to sell on other
than a CPM basis, she said. She said the campaign
paid for itself over time.

The coverage is sponsored by Click&Buy