Clicks for free: WSJ.com gives away more content

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NEW YORK -- News Corp.'s Dow Jones has opened access to some online content of the Wall Street Journal that was paid-only in a possible precursor to a widely anticipated move to make all of WSJ.com free.

In its opinion section Thursday, the Journal said it is offering free access to all its editorials and op-eds as well as video content at WSJ.com/opinion. Part of the site will be clips from the paper's weekly TV show on the Fox News Channel, "Journal Editorial Report."

In the past, the Journal had made some content available for free online, but the move unveiled Thursday is seen as a next step, even though the paper's core news content remains a subscription service.

News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin said in an investor presentation Wednesday that the conglomerate hasn't made a decision on whether to make all of WSJ.com free.

In an editorial, the Journal referenced the big technological changes that have challenged print media and cited one of the big economic thinkers of the modern age as an inspiration for its expanded free online offers.

"Everyone knows that Joseph Schumpeter's 'creative destruction' is roiling the newspaper world, and today we'd like to announce something on the creative side," the editorial said.

It also reiterated an interest in reaching a global audience -- a key focus that News Corp. executives have repeatedly emphasized of late. "We're delighted to offer our worldwide readers access to our message of free people and free markets -- for free," the editorial said in closing.

Bear Stearns analyst Spencer Wang last week estimated that WSJ.com would have to increase its page views about twelvefold to offset lost subscription revenue should it go all free. "This could be challenging based on traffic for comparable financial news sites," he argued.

Overall though, he said such a move wouldn't affect News Corp.'s total financials and stock valuation much.

"Conversion of WSJ.com to free appears unlikely to be a material event for the NWS empire," Wang said. "In our worst-case scenario analysis, we see annual earnings per share being negatively impacted by only $0.01 and equity value by about 1%."
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