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WSJ Launching Single-Issue Downloads For iPad

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Looking to get more subscribers for its iPad app, The Wall Street Journal will start selling single-issue digital versions of its morning paper for $1.99 in the within the existing free app. In a conversation last week with Alisa Bowen, Dow Jones’ digital head, she described the move as part of the company’s “open house approach,” designed to entice readers with a sampling of its content. Bowen said the move had nothing do with the New York Times’ new metered paywall, which it announced last week.

Up to now, those who downloaded the free WSJ app on the iPad could receive some free content. But to get the full range of the WSJ’s updated news and features, they had to subscribe. There will still be limitations on what the readers who choose the single-issue download can receive. In essence, they’ll just get what’s in that day’s print edition. But they’ll be able invited to get the full “Now Edition” for $18 a month, which includes regular news updates.

Right now, any current WSJ subscriber with a log-in can get full access– to the site and all the apps — and that won’t change. In addition, the WSJ recently began offering a digital bundle offer. Basically, for $3.99 per week, you can get full access to and its suite of digital products (iPad, Android Tablet Edition, iPhone and BlackBerry apps), all of which works out to roughly $17 with tax for a full month.

Bowen told me that she believes readers are more likely to subscribe once they had a taste of the content. But it’s not the first time they’ve tried that approach. For example, WSJ content is available for free to users who log on to Starbucks’ digital network as part of the coffee chain’s free wifi access.

In a separate interview, Daniel Bernard, the WSJ Digital Network’s chief product officer, said that the paper wants to see how the single-issue sales go before moving it to other platforms, such as Android.

The expectation is that this will turn casual, curious readers into regular subscribers at a time when charging for content could become a more accepted way of distributing content. But it’s still early — the (NYSE: NYT) metered pay model doesn’t launch until next week in the U.S. — so the WSJ, which was one of the early paywall stalwarts, is prepared to put its finger in the wind and start slowly.

Just in case those casual readers prefer using the digital newsstand once in a while instead of regularly subscribing, Bernard noted that users will be able to delete an issue they paid for from the iPad and store it as a back-up on their computer hard drives. They will also have the option of hitting “restore” on past digital copies they’ve deleted from the device.

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