“Would you pay for essential news?” It’s a basic economics question and there are lessons to be learned from The Wall Street Journal in this area.
Too many newspapers entered the digital age making a self-fulfilling prophecy. Giving away their news online, those newspapers experienced the natural economic result of so obvious a pricing disparity. Customers stopped paying for the same news (or less) in print they could read at no cost online. Why pay for what’s available free?
Pay for online content
The Journal was much derided for a course that was different, if more economically sound. Its online edition, WSJ.com, was born in the belief that value isn’t determined by channel of delivery. If readers valued the news in print, Dow Jones said, they would value it also on the Internet. In other words, they’d pay.
They paid. It’s no accident that the Journal’s paid circulation has been growing in print at the same time it’s been growing online. The Journal’s global paid circulation today is 2.2 million. More than a million subscribers pay for the Journal’s global editions on the Web and on digital devices.
Meanwhile, other newspapers are watching print circulation sink while they persist in pricing their Web content at zero. The laws of economics are working. Consumers offered a lower cost substitute – in this case, no cost – are opting for the substitute instead.
In the case of the Journal, the laws of economics are working too. In an economic transaction, consumers will pay a price commensurate with the value they expect. In other words, they’re willing to buy the Journal in the US, Asia and Europe, because they’re satisfied with the value – the news and insight – received in return.
Part of the value proposition for today’s readers derives, in fact, from the very vastness and openness of the Web.
On the Web, readers are wrestling with too much volume and too little veracity. No wonder opinion polls show uncertainty and distrust. One recent industry study revealed 61per cent of those surveyed thought half or more of what they read online isn’t reliable. We shouldn’t be surprised that few would want to pay for that.
It’s a different proposition altogether when you pair digital with credible content. The Journal has demonstrated that readers will pay for something they trust, something of value – even if it is online. The evidence points to a flight to quality – and credibility – for the future.
Dow Jones and the Journal have recognised another area where many newspapers and other experts misunderstood the Web and the change it initiated. True enough that the Internet accelerated the globalisation of business and ushered in global digital platforms for information. Yet those profound trends didn’t obviate the local requirements of the global audience.
Local in the global context
So, Dow Jones sees its business – news and information – as local in the global context. We learned a long time ago that doing business in Asia required a local presence and local expertise. Since Dow Jones Newswires began covering Asia in earnest in 1967 or the Journal Asia starting publishing in 1976, we understood the need to embed our journalists in the local culture. It’s why in the past two years we have increased our news gathering force in the region by more than 20 per cent. The global trend didn’t destroy the local imperative. What we discovered as the Internet evolved was complimentary demand for local. As consumers and businesses demand global, they demand local too. Local news, local information, local products remain as important as ever.
The Journal Asia redesigned its Chinese-language website four years ago. It currently has more than a million registered users and counts more than 25 million page views a month. A Japanese language edition of WSJ.com was launched last year and blogs are now regularly published in Korean and Hindi. Factiva, Dow Jones’ online tool for business intelligence and awareness, isn’t just a global content set; it includes content in more than 20 languages. The reader chooses.
Mobile further extends the reach of our brand in the digital world. The Wall Street Journal Asia released a Chinese-language application for iPhone recently, aimed at consumers who want to take the immediacy, insight and authority of The Wall Street Journal Asia with them wherever they go. In the same way, we’ve just launched a Chinese version of Scene Asia, our lifestyle site offering readers observations and insights on what to do and where to go in Asia. The Asia edition of The Wall Street Journal’s iPad app has been promptly adopted by local users in the few weeks since launch.
Value is what it’s about. Information is too important to make the zero-price point the determining factor.
The Internet made information more accessible. It didn’t change the fundamentals of economic behaviour. We need information as much as ever. Providing news and information that is trusted is still a valuable service for readers. There’s always been a price for that. There always will be.
(Christine Brendle is Publisher of The Wall Street Journal Asia and Managing Director, Dow Jones & Co, Asia Pacific.)
(Article coordination by Akash Raha.)