Murdoch on WSJ.com: Not exactly free for all

Site to boost fees for subscriber areas

The Wall Street Journal's Web site will not be entirely free as had been widely expected, and special content likely will come for an even higher subscription fee under new owner News Corp., the media conglomerate's chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said Thursday.

Murdoch spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he joined media and advertising executives in a panel discussion titled "Rebuilding Brand America: Five Suggestions for the Future President."

The discussion was supposed to be available online, but the webcast wasn't up as of press time.

The Wall Street Journal's site reported from Davos, citing Murdoch as saying WSJ.com will continue to offer "a significant portion" of its content by subscription only. "We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of the Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering" for subscribers, Murdoch said, according to the Journal. "The really special things will still be a subscription service and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive."

A Journal spokesman said the story about Murdoch's comments had been vetted as accurate, but he couldn't provide further details.

Meanwhile, the debate about the health of the U.S. as a brand in the eyes of the world seemed intense.

"America needs to be less shy about what a great country it is — the tradition of philanthropy there is not matched anywhere else," Murdoch told the Forum, according to a summary of key quotes from participants provided by organizers.

Murdoch also took a stab at a rival that the Journal is planning to compete with more directly on political news. "I would advise not to read the New York Times," he said when asked about what advice he would give the next U.S. president. "The United States has a great image around the world."

Others on the panel naturally had different views. Martin Sorrell, CEO of advertising conglomerate WPP, reported "a significant decline in the perception of the brand over the past few years."

Citing market research carried out by his company before the Davos forum, he said: "The report card for brand manager (President) Bush is 'could do better.' The relationship with the rest of the world has deteriorated."

On the flip side, Sorrell also pointed out that U.S. products do not seem to have suffered the same damage. Even though his market research shows that the U.S. corporate brand is "not well liked," U.S. companies still account for 50% of the top 10 brands in China in terms of market recognition and loyalty, with Italy showing only slightly lower numbers, for example.
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