Murdoch Leads the Charge on Paid Content

Say what you will about Rupert Murdoch (and we have), the guy’s a smart businessman.

Last week, I reported that Murdoch himself was “displeased” that the Journal is free on iPhone and Blackberry and that charging would begin in the fall.

Murdoch, on News Corp.’s conference call yesterday, confirms that charges are coming, and throws out some hard numbers on the iPhone app:

In just three weeks, 360,000 people have downloaded the Journal’s iPhone mobile reader. As you can imagine, we will soon be making them pay handsomely for the privilege of accessing the world’s best business news source.

And he gets to the charging-on-the-Web thing.

If it is possible to charge for content on the web, it is obvious from the Journal’s experience. We are now in the midst of a [proper] debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers the current model is malfunctioning. We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues and returns for our shareholders.

Within a year he plans to start charging online for general-interest papers like The Times of London and the Sun and plans to do that for most of its papers around the world depending on the results at the “stronger” papers.

Murdoch also brings up a great point regarding the Kindle. Amazon has dictated what publications can charge and what they can’t. Why? The industry needs all the incremental revenue it can get right now, and isn’t in a position to really negotiate, but it can’t let one company control the digital platform like Apple does with the music industry.

Murdoch senses the threat:

I can assure you we will not be feeding our content rights to the fine people who created the Kindle. We will control the prices for our content and we will control the relationship with our customers. Any device maker or website which doesn’t meet these basic criteria on content will not be doing business long-term with News Corporation.


Another bit of news here is that Murdoch says the Journal isn’t losing money—at least not yet—even though ads at The Wall Street Journal collapsed in the first quarter, down a third from a year ago.

(h/t Chris Roush)

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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.