A game of giveaway and take

Murdoch's plan for free access to WSJ site should spike traffic

If News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch goes through with his long-anticipated plan to liberate the Wall Street Journal's subscriber-only Web site, he needs only to look to the New York Times to see the tangible results.

The Times canceled its paid Select offering in mid-September after two years, and its Web site gained nearly 3 million unique visitors in October, according to Nielsen Online. With 17.5 million visitors in October, the NYTimes.com's monthly audience has grown 34% since August, the last full month of Select.

Although most of the newspaper already was free, Select charged readers for the opinions and weekly crosswords sections and the archives from 1923-86. Last month, online research blog Compete reported that only 10% of Times online readers subscribed to Select and that once it was eliminated, traffic to the op-ed section of the paper doubled.

Traffic to the Dow Jones-owned Wall Street Journal likely would experience a greater spike because as of now the vast majority of the paper is subscriber-only. WSJ charges $99 for a yearly online subscription and $49 for those who already subscribe.

Since News Corp. said in August that it would purchase Dow Jones for $5.6 billion, Murdoch has publicly ruminated about eliminating the subscription fee. Last week, he gave his strongest indication that he would go through with this plan, telling News shareholders in Australia, "We are studying that, and we expect to make that free."

Although the site reportedly makes at least $50 million annually in subscription fees, Murdoch maintains that increased readership and search traffic could make the site even more valuable because of increased advertising revenue. The site has 1 million subscribers, but because it makes certain articles and abstracts of paid articles available for free, traffic to WSJ Online is much greater.

Last month, the site had 5.9 million unique visitors, up more than 1 million from September. A partnership announced last week with Digg, which will make WSJ articles available to rank on the community news site, could drive more traffic.

Nielsen Online is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
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