Congratulations to The Wall Street Journal Online on its tenth anniversary. To celebrate, the site is free for the next ten days.
The Online Journal at WSJ.com is a terrific case study of a publisher that successfully sells content on the Web. The branded content is available on a subscription basis at $79 per year ($39 for subscribers of the print edition). With more than 700,000 subscribers worldwide, the Online Journal cashes in despite the fact that the vast majority of newspaper sites are free. As the debate about free content has raged, more than half of the early subscribers who signed up in 1996 happily remain Online Journal subscribers today.
The Online Journal is one of my favorite examples of a publisher that gives away free content in order to sell subscriptions. With a network of free sites such as CareerJournal.com and StartupJournal.com that expose people to Online Journal content, the sites in the network are designed to bring in subscription revenue.
As Gordon Crovitz, president of Electronic Publishing at Dow Jones told me when I interviewed him for my book Cashing in with Content: "Publishers must have more faith in their content’s value. The Internet made many publishers get off on the wrong foot with free content. Many more publishers will pursue subscription models over time I think. All publishers need to figure it out."
For more on the free vs. fee content debate, check out my column in EContent Magazine: Content Business Models: Free to Be You and Me.