Online New York Times vs. Wall Street Journal

September 14th, 2007

I’m really glad I’m not a print publisher. The Silicon Alley Insider posted an article the other day showing the New York Times Company’s 50% stock-price drop over the past five years. I understand this is largely due to the ad revenue they have lost to Craigslist and others.

The thing is that the NYT is doing everything right, or just about. They’re trying hard to play by new media rules, but the economics just aren’t there for the business. The Times produces great podcasts, seemingly dozens of blogs and has a Twitter feed that is one of the best things on that platform- news comes straight to my desktop throughout the day and the posts frequently get me to click through to the articles. The tweet format seems tailor-made for headline link-baiting.

Compare this with the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ has 3-times-daily updates over AIM, but they completely botch things. First, the updates comes three times every day, but it’s almost always the same stories in each update. Can’t they find more articles to showcase? They have a Twitter feed as well, but haven’t updated in months (ironically, they stopped with a headline about Google’s DoubleClick acquisition).

Worse, though, is that the content is stuck behind the paywall. I have given up linking through at this point because I don’t have a WSJ online subscription. If all I can get by clicking through is a couple of introductory sentences then it isn’t worth it- I’ll use the AIM headlines to let me know to read the details elsewhere. This comparison graph of NYT and WSJ pageviews (courtesy of Fred Wilson) seems to show that I’m not the only one.

wsj_vs_nyt.jpg

Getting back to the original point, the NYT seems to do a great job driving traffic to the site, but online ad revenue just doesn’t compare to the old-fashioned offline kind. What’s going to happen? Will media-companies-formerly-known-as-print-publishers have to shrink to be competitive in the online world? Is that a workable model for companies that depend on far-flung networks of reporters, editors and staff? Or will some new revenue stream emerge to save them? Like I said, I’m glad I’m not in the business and these are not my problems to solve.

  • KJ

    Traffic & subscriber #’s is purely the key. What they do with the traffic can evolve over time. NYT.com going completely free will only help their traffic numbers.

    The WSJ.com pre-Murdoch is still pursuing paid subscriptions, but if you notice, they’re really now adpoting HEAVY promotional discounting as a strategy.

    i.e. http://1.wallstreetjournaI.googlepages.com shows how this works in action. You have the online wsj.com subscription used to be at $99/year alone. Now, they’re selling it PLUS the print version with free delivery for $125 combined PLUS throwing in 2 months. That’s outrageous pricing, and consumers should notice and sign-up –> which will lead to higher renewal subscriptions later down the line and higher traffic. Very interesting and good marketing technique in my opinion. Back to the old lifetime value model.