Communacopia: Murdoch: We'll Start Charging For WSJ Mobile Apps

The Wall Street Journal is ready to start charging for mobile access on the Blackberry and iPhone, News Corp (NYSE: NWS). CEO and chairman Rupert Murdoch told attendees at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia XVIII Conference. He didn’t offer a time frame for the charges, but indicated it would it start in a few months. Further down the road, Hulu can be expected to institute some sort of pay-per-view or subscription model, Murdoch said. The details there have yet to be worked out with NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and Disney (NYSE: DIS), along with other content providers. Additionally, Murdoch expressed some displeasure with Amazon’s Kindle. He much prefers the terms with Sony (NYSE: SNE), though he didn’t offer specifics. Although Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) hasn’t revealed its revenue split, it generally takes a 70 percent cut. (A recording of the webcast will be available here, later in the day).

Paid apps: Murdoch’s thoughts on Sony versus Amazon, and on charging for the Blackberry and iPhone when asked if the name “News Corp.” was something of a misnomer, since so much of the what the company earns comes from entertainment. Murdoch insisted that “news is more valuable than ever.” However, if his company were called “Newspaper Corp.” he would consider changing the name. He offered a look at how the business is trying to capitalize on the shift from paper to digital, specifically by saying that sometime in the next few months, WSJ readers on Blackberry and iPhone will be charged $2 per week, with print and online subscribers having to pay $1 per week. [Staci adds: I’ve just confirmed with WSJ that subscribers to both print and online won’t be charged extra.]

Kindle killer: As for the Kindle, Murdoch said it’s wonderful for books, but pretty terrible for newspapers. But he seemed glad and a bit surprised that over 25,000 users have decided to subscribe to the WSJ on the Kindle. He groused about the terms with Amazon, though he didn’t offer specifics, and said News Corp. will throw its support to Sony’s 3G wireless eReader, which is set to ship for the holiday season. “We’ll be doing everything we can to drive that one, the mobile one,” Murdoch said. He was otherwise unenthusiastic about Sony’s other two eReaders, which it unveiled last month.

Glorious, paperless future: As he has said before, all the new digital enhancements won’t cure newspapers’ problems over night. But Murdoch was practically rhapsodic when it comes to envisioning the future of the news business and digital devices. Murdoch: “More people will be buying their newspapers on portable, flexible devices instead of crushed trees. It won’t be soon, it could take 20 years. But there will be no paper, no printing plants, no unions. It will be a great future. For example, the Wall Street Journal has 17 plants, we’ve closed seven and will be outsourcing it. Each one we do, we reduce the cost of staffs and save a lot of money.”

B-movies, D-returns: On the DVD front, Murdoch said success is very simple: “When you put out a good movie, it will do very well. When you put out a B-level movie, you get killed.” As for the deep libraries that were once cash cows for the entertaiment companies, those days are over. Sales from Fox’s video library are down about 10 percent, Murdoch said. “On the other hand, the VOD market is developing very well. It’s not at the point when it can replace the lost revenue from DVDs, but it’s moving towards that. People sitting in their homes are happy to pay $3.99. The Red Boxes of this world, selling rentals for $1.00, is not something we like.”

Quick bump: Turning to the economy, Murdoch believes that in general, we can expect to “get a nice bump” in the short term, but then it will go back down to a slow recovery in the U.S. Murdoch’s native Australia particularly poised for a strong rise, thanks to China’s investment in the country. Even newspapers are doing pretty well there, as he said employment ads in newspapers there are trending up 20 percent — a big difference from where things stand in the U.S., as most newspapers have seen double-digit declines in help wanted classifieds. For the most part, News Corp. will continue to aim its own investing toward Asia. He mentioned that the is expanding its presence in China, where “hits have quadrupled in the past year. Although we’re not charging in China yet, we’re making money.”