Sunday, March 04, 2007

Freakonomics Authors Ask Why isn't the Wall Street Journal Free Online

Freakonomics is a book written by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner that provides multiple examples of economics in today's world- some say the unifying theme (the authors deny a theme to the book) is the power of incentives to explain, and perhaps to predict, behavior. Along with the book comes the Freakonomics Author Blog which according to the feedreader stats posted on the site has over 45,000 subscribers. The Freakonomics book is being used in many university courses so i suspect that a lot of those subscribers could also be semester subscribers perhaps- but that is not my point...

If you look through most posts, the authors are truly engaging their audience constantly asking questions and eliciting a lot of responses from their communities (and you have to register with WordPress which probably leads to a more engaged commenter?). That is why i found this post by Levitt questioning why the Wall Street Journal Online isn't free an interesting read- not because of what Levitt put out there as a question (that debate is constantly on-going in and out of the blogsphere and the real water-cooler where i work)-but what is interesting are the comments that his readers posted in response. Some interesting points they made:

  • A reader post a link to Mark Potts' recent 'Paid Content' post - focus on unique content and figure out a why to charge for it. Some figures are presented on that post about how the NYTs and the WSJ are going about it
  • Many companies budget for access to premium content (in print or online) because it is an 'investment rather then entertainment' and is 'the paper of record'
  • Like the fact that Freaknomics the book (and probably the blog) is highly used by university students, the WSJ like the Financial Times (FT) is required reading for those students and many carry that 'habit' into their careers
  • Interesting comment about business travelers and their reading habits- i personally enjoy reading the local paper when i am in a different city and hate the fact that USAToday is defaulted as the paper delivered (most big city hotels will deliver the WSJ or FT if requested)- (online USAToday is also changing)
  • Comment about local papers having to stop being reprints of AP newswire stories and have them focus on local news

And last i would like to point to one comment about access of these publications through the Factiva services. " Well, now that I’m a poor grad student, I guess I can get it for free from Factiva, but it’s really a pain to read any news source that way… it’s great for searching but lousy for browsing. " Yes. I agree it can be lousy for browsing if you are using the search features. Here is my response on that point on how we offer browsing capabilities through newsstand views, if you have access to Factiva you will have access to these features (i have also built some pretty cool custom newsstands for client portals):


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Anonymous said...

There's a simple explanation for this I learned when studying online casual games like Wheel of Fortune. The answer is there are people who are willing to pay and people who aren't. For people who are willing to pay, the price is irrlevent. For people who aren't willing to pay, price is irrelevent. Dropping the price makes no difference in total number of customers, just profit. So as a business if I have a target market that's willing to pay and I pass on receiving the money that's a bad business choice unless there is some proof that giving away the product is going to generate revenue is some other way. When it comes to newspapers most that don't charge don't have customers willing to pay. WSJ is the perfect niche for people to pay for news. Giving it away I don't see as gaining them anything but a loss of revenue. Their news stories are promoted by so many other news organizations they already have the brand and story awareness they would gain by giving away WSJ online.

daniela barbosa said...

Thanks for your comments 'anonymous'. I am not sure if price is completely irrelevant but understand your premise- if one sees value in something they are willing to pay.