In effect, what newspapers (and magazines) are doing is incentivizing their customers to go for their money-losing products. You know those Chinese food places, (on Fulton Street in Manhattan and in mall food courts across the land) that hand out sesame chicken samples on a toothpick outside the store? If newspapers ran Chinese restaurants they’d be handing out full meals out front for free while trying to get you inside to pay big bucks for the chicken-on-a-toothpick.

Newspaper websites are the worst kind of loss leaders in that they only—thus far at least, and as far out as any of us can see—lead to losses. The Journal’s been different in that it rakes in tens of millions of dollars in subscription fees every year on top of the advertising it gets (notably, Journal print circulation has been steadier than most papers that don’t charge).

In March, unique visitors were almost half that of The New York Times’s site because it’s figured out how to charge many while letting many more have relatively easy access to the site. It’s pretty brilliant, actually.’s great advantage was that it charged from the very beginning—something other papers can only dream they had done. Its readers are acclimated to paying for Journal content.

That content is valuable. Hold the line, WSJ.

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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.