Murdoch Could Learn a Thing or Two from

Chris Roush has a brief interview posted with Alan Murray, who heads up The Wall Street Journal’s digital operations, including

I’ve long been a fan of the Journal’s leaky paywall approach. They’ve got pay figured out far better than anyone else, including the Financial Times. So this, about’s strategy for what stays behind the paywall and what they put out free, is particularly interesting (emphasis mine):

Roughly speaking, two thirds is behind the pay wall. Editors decide, in order to both increase value to subscribers and maximize traffic. That may sound like conflicting guidance, but one thing we’ve found is that our “most valuable” content and our “most popular” content are frequently not the same thing. Thus we can give our “most valuable” content exclusively to subscribers, while using our “most popular” content to drive traffic.

That’s a very smart distinction, and it goes a long way toward showing how the Journal has had such success growing traffic to while increasing its already massive online subscriber base. The sweet spot is to charge your core readers and let less-interested traffic (junk, if you will) in for free for your stories that have broader appeal.

Murray and could show a thing or two to Journal owner Rupert Murdoch, who for some reason has decided to put his UK papers completely behind a wall. If you don’t subscribe you don’t get to read—any of it. Maybe that’ll work, but you have to wonder why Murdoch’s going headfirst into that strategy when he’s got a different, already successful one at his most important newspaper (though I’ll concede that built up its million-plus subscriber base primarily in the days when there was far less free content on the site—and no Google backdoor—than there is these days).

The Independent reported yesterday that Murdoch’s move with the Times of London isn’t going so well thus far:

Faced with a collapse in traffic to, some advertisers have simply abandoned the site. Rob Lynam, head of press trading at the media agency MEC, whose clients include Lloyds Banking Group, Orange, Morrisons and Chanel, says, “We are just not advertising on it. If there’s no traffic on there, there’s no point in advertising on there.” Lynam says he has been told by News International insiders that traffic to The Times site has fallen by 90 per cent since the introduction of charges.


Despite this, publicists have told me that clients are increasingly reluctant to give interviews or stories to The Times, on the grounds that they would not be made freely available via search engines. Dan Sabbagh, a former media editor at The Times who now runs the media website Beehive City, says News International journalists are frustrated by the decline in their audience.

Want to bet that by this time next year the Times of London will be aping The Wall Street Journal’s strategy?

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.