Regular readers know I’m pretty much a zealot about keeping general circulation newspaper sites free. Going paid is pretty much a guaranteed disaster, at least at this stage of the game.
The blogosphere is abuzz with the potential — floated by Rupert Murdoch when first talking about acquiring Dow Jones — that the WSJ will go free.
I remain skeptical that this is a good move. I mean, you’re talking about 900,000 people who have already ponied up a subscription fee, as since it’s almost all corporate-expense subsidized, renewals are nearly automatic.
Bussinesspundit isn’t too sure either and has this to say about advertising:
Secondly, the fact that ad rates are so closely tied to traffic numbers on the web is just stupid. It’s a holdover from the old school days of advertising when gross numbers were all people knew. If I get a post on Reddit or Digg and get 5x my normal traffic, I don’t get 5x my normal clicks on Google ads. In fact, it almost doesn’t budge. Over time, web advertising will depend more on reader quality than reader quantity. I think a paid subscription model is a good way to filter out the riff-raff and keep a quality readership.
I’m taking his last sentence as specific to WSJ. Yeah, on a gen-circ newspaper.com, you’ll filter out the riff-raff with a paid model, but you’ll filter out a lot of other people, too. You’ll be left with too small of an audience to make much money off. WSJ is in a different league.
This goes along, though, with my general thinking that newspaper sites tend to charge ridiculously low CPMs. We keep seeing our sites as undifferentiated blobs of content, but our core audience tends to be pretty specific and generally made up of highly attractive demographic targets. We’re selling volume, not value.
It’s time to reduce ad positions per page and raise CPM rates — aggressively. Of course, it will take a motivated and trained sales force to sell value (anybody can sell volume), but I expect ROI to be there.
Of course, you still need plenty of CPC avails, too.