Wait and see as WSJ leaps with micro payments

So the Wall Street Journal got it moving as it launches first with micro payments after Rupert Murdoch hinted heavily last week. It was the most obvious to go first, but what the industry really wants is for someone else to leap.

People will shortly be able to buy individual articles according to WSJ managing editor Robert Thomson. He said to Reuters: “It’s a payments system — once we have your details we will be able to charge you according to what you read, in particular, a high price for specialist material.”

What’s as interesting is that the WSJ.com is using the opportunity for expansion. While newspapers around the US totter on the brink, the WSJ.com is pushing out to cities such as Detroit and San Francisco in an effort to broaden the title’s appeal by playing up local political and sports coverage on its website.

What’s very interesting about that is that it is not the specialist financial stories (the stuff that people already pay a hundred bucks for), but the more general stories that it also wants to get people paying for.

I could be reading that wrong, but it does not seem likely that the WSJ is to push out to these cities and start giving content away. So it is clearly hoping that people will pay for “local political and sports coverage” as coverage in their own local papers go.

Murdoch said last week that he plans to have all his papers charging. The speed of his US announcement could mean that it happens sooner rather than later in the UK.

If and when that happens, things will start to speed up and maybe quite quickly, as if this is going to work, the industry has to do it as a concerted push – to assert this as the new world order, so to speak.

It was the Financial Times, which reported this story about the WSJ, and it must, along with some element of Guardian Media Group (after chief executive Carolyn McCall’s comments last week), be a strong candidate to be somewhere near the front of the cue to begin experimenting with charging. At the moment the FT’s system of giving some content away really does not work. I subscribe to the WSJ.com and get to read about all I need from FT.com for free. You can always find its content on Google, no payment necessary.


FT.com introduced its current model in October 2007, which at the time seemed to suggest that paid content was coming to an end. It was also when Murdoch was talking about dumping subs charges.

But if anyone is to be next, it will probably be another American newspaper and probably the New York Times. I imagine that is what people are hoping for.

It is all very well seeing the financially strong WSJ leap into the semi dark (for it at least), but what the industry really wants is to see a more general news outlet take the leap and see how it turns out. There is I think a little wait and see taking place. So I guess we will. Wait and see that is.



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