The WSJ’s Confusing Subscription Prices

I wrote yesterday that The Wall Street Journal’s iPad pricing doesn’t make sense.

The paper will charge $17.99 a month for the app, while it charges less than half that for a subscription and $9.92 a month to have the actual paper dropped on your doorstep every morning (and $11.66 a month if you get both).

But as Jon Greer points out over at Romenesko, the latter numbers are for new subscribers:

You’re using the wrong numbers to compare the two versions — the Journal’s $9,92 a month cost for print is a 12 month teaser rate. then it goes up to $30 a month after that. at least, that’s what i was paying before i cancelled print and stuck to the $79 a year online sub.

I’d thought of that and tried in vain to find the regular rate for the WSJ. But the subscription page I linked to yesterday says this about a print subscription:

Your credit card will be charged $119 annually. Your subscription will renew at the rate then in effect unless you notify us otherwise. You will be notified in advance of any price increases.

So the WSJ says you will be charged $119 a year. But then it says it will be at “the rate then in effect.”

I asked Dow Jones to clarify their pricing and whether the $119 rate is just a one-year teaser. A spokeswoman told me this:

As mentioned, $119 is the introductory price for a print-only sub currently being promoted on We don’t publicly discuss our pricing strategy, but here’s what I can tell you…

The full price for a print-only subscription as published by ABC is currently $363. But as you know, we have multiple options, with print-only, online-only and bundled subscriptions. Rates may vary based on when, where and how someone signs up…

The language addresses the introductory $119 rate for the first year (and the charge as referenced), and then it moves to the “then in effect” rate for the renewal.

That didn’t exactly clarify things. I asked why the WSJ says a subscription costs $119 “annually,” which after all means every year.

All I can give you is what ABC lists as our current full price. Beyond that, we don’t publicly discuss our pricing strategy.

So it’s still unclear whether that subscription you bought for “$119 annually” will come back to nail you for three times as much when it actually renews on the annum. Not exactly Consumer Reports-worthy there. About the best you can say is that the paper says it will notify you if it does go up to, say, $30/month.

Journalism companies ought to hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to transparent pricing.

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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.