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Updated below: Last week, Rupert Murdoch told analysts and investors on the News Corp. (NYSE: NWS) earnings call that he was still considering whether to switch to a free WSJ.com, mentioning the high CPMs the subscription service commands for its 1 million premium subscribers versus lower CPMs for 10 or more users. In fact, he’s left wiggle room in several recent comments.
Today, though, he was back to declarative stance, describing digital as “the great revolution that we’re facing”and telling Australian shareholders: “(WSJ.com) is an excellent site but we charge for it, which limits it to about a million in circulation. We are studying and we expect to make that free, and instead of having a million, having 10 or 15 million people in every corner of the earth keeping up to date minute by minute with all business and economic news from around the world. We think that will attract very large sums — or, relatively large sums, anyway — of advertising revenue.” (His comments are available via webcast.) More after the jump…
Meanwhile, DJ management has been trying to make the case for continuing its hybrid model of a core premium product surrounded by free content, including a press release to announce hitting the 1 million mark but stressing that WSJ.com also had a record 10 million unique visitors in October. The WSJ Digital Network had a record 20 million uniques the same month.
Even if Murdoch makes more or all of WSJ.com open access, it would be a mistake to think this means everything will be free. Murdoch clearly believes in the value of premium content and I expect more subscription products to crop up following the anticipated close of the Dow Jones acquisition in December. During last week’s call, he added to earlier comments about developing new verticals
“which would be very deep and for which we could charge, and that will be an extension, partly, I guess of the newswires operation.”
Reorganizing DJ: During the Australian meeting, Murdoch also talked the other changes ahead for DJ: “We have to do a lot of reorganization in a lot of areas there. We have to modernize its business methods. … with our experience and the people we’ll be bringing in from Australia and Great Britain and New York, we’ll be able to make huge strides in quality, in attractiveness and in the value of the Wall Street Journal.”
Update: As expected, DJ officials are trying to scale back the inevitability of the decision: According to E&P, “It is jumping the gun, people are jumping to conclusions here very quickly. We haven’t even closed the deal yet,” said Michael Rooney, SVP and chief revenue officer for the company