WSJ Online Expanded Pay Plans Include Bundles, Micropayments

It seems like only yesterday that *News Corp*. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch was talking about making free — and people were falling for it. But even before the deal to acquire Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) closed in late 2007, Murdoch was leaving plenty of wiggle room for more, not fewer, premium offerings. And, in today’s reality, DJ is looking at any and every way to get more people to pay directly for access to the WSJ in a variety of forms, while encouraging current subscribers to pay even more by expanding offerings. That includes bundling subscriptions across devices and platforms, as well as the micropayments and premium subscriptions now in the news.

As the Financial Times and Reuters reported Sunday, the paper is closer to trying micropayments, an option suggested recently by DJ Editor-in-Chief Robert Thomson. He said last month that micro-payment systems needed to be more sophisticated; now he says DJ is working on its own version and plans to launch this fall. The target user is someone who wants access to some articles but would spend less than $100 a year. (The current online-only special offer subscription rate for first-time subs is $103; print, $119. A one-year “discounted” subscription is $349. ) The site also will offer premium subscriptions for energy, commodities, wealth management and other niches that will include access to Dow Jones Newswires, according to the FT. Pricing is still under discussion.

Bundling: Dow Jones wants to bundle subscriptions beyond the combo print/online option already being sold (first-time offer, $140), according to someone familiar with the plans — one of the key reasons for Rupert Murdoch’s strong comments last week about the Kindle and customer relationships. DJ currently is giving away valuable content via free BlackBerry and iPhone apps and partnering with distributors like Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) that have policies that don’t match News Corp.’s goals.

The attention lately on whether or not News Corp. will build its own device or put its own stamp on one misses the point; it wants to be on all devices. But News Corp. also wants to deal directly with the customer or, at least, to own its customer data and control that relationship. And it wants to be able to set the pricing. For instance, one of the pet peeves of people who subscribe to the print and/or online journals, is the need to pay again to get the Kindle edition ($9.99 monthly) instead of being able to get an all-access price.That same refrain will get louder when, as Murdoch and others have promised, WSJ starts charging for the iPhone and BlackBerry apps. But DJ can only do that across its own properties for now. (I expect two layers for the apps, similar to the way some access to is free/ad supported and some is subscriber only.) Providing that option might induce more takers and might keep some people from canceling print or online.

News Corp.’s pay plans:, which already has a well-entrenched pay model and more than 1 million online subscribers, is the beacon for finding ways to help other News Corp. newspapers charge for content. While too niche to be a template for say, the New York Post or some of the UK papers, how the technical and partnership issues are resolved for the WSJ should have resonance for the company-wide workgroup charged with reducing News Corp.’s reliance on advertising.