Reuters’ Imaginary WSJ/NYT Price War

Reuters gets a story on the upcoming Wall Street Journal/New York Times Battle for New York all wrong. And PaidContent amplifies it.

Here’s the Reuters headline:

WSJ cuts prices in battle with New York Times

And PaidContent’s hed:

WSJ Attempts To Ignite Subscription Price War With NYT

Infuriating, if true. Good thing it’s not.

Reuters claims that the Journal is slashing its prices 80 percent in a bid to lure New Yorkers from the Times:

The newspaper, the first read for many in the business world, has mailed some Times subscribers an offer for home delivery for $10 per month, undercutting the $40 price that existing Times subscribers pay in the New York City area.

A virtually identical offer for $2.29 per week is available for new subscribers who apply online, though it excludes access to the Journal’s pay-to-see website. Existing Journal subscribers pay about $30 per month and get website access.

There are a couple of things wrong there. First, the Journal hasn’t cut prices. as I wrote last week, Wall Street Journal prices have long been far lower than the Times’s—and that’s nationwide, not just in New York. That $10 a month is about what the paper has cost for a good while (try $3 to $4 a month if you use airline miles).

And even if the Journal really had slashed prices 80 percent to $10 a month, that would imply a subscription had cost $600 a year. The list rate, which you ought to be smart enough not to pay, is $363. Reuters appears to be confused by that old subscription-advertising gimmick: The discount off the newsstand price. Also, existing WSJ print subscribers pay extra for

Reuters implies that the WSJ somehow got hold of a Times subscriber list and is using it to undercut the paper. While there’s no doubt the Journal is advertising in New York, it’s likely that lots of non-Times subscribers are getting the same ads.

Bottom line, the WSJ’s cheaper prices existed long before the New York edition was dreamed up. That’s one of the reasons the paper lost $80 million last year, while the Times made money.

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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.