The Wall Street Journal will continue to charge readers for access to much of its website, Rupert Murdoch said yesterday.
For months, Murdoch, who took control of the paper in December, has vacillated publicly over whether to maintain its subscription firewall. But officials at his company, News Corp., say that this time, a decision has actually been made to keep it - for now, at least.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Murdoch said the pages on WSJ.com "giving the greatest insights, that will still be a subscription service," according to Reuters.
People at News Corp. who have been briefed on the matter confirmed that the policy had been settled, in general terms. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the subject.
But they said the company had not intended to disclose the policy yet and had not expected any statement by Murdoch, who is known for speaking his mind.
In November, Murdoch said of the Journal site, "We expect to make that free," and in that case, too, people involved in the discussions were caught off guard and cautioned that nothing had been decided.
Currently, the Journal's site puts most of the newspaper's news articles behind the firewall while giving free access to a wide range of other material, like opinion columns and video.
News Corp. officials said that while Murdoch would keep the hybrid model, the mix of what is free and what is not could change significantly. And, they said, the entire matter is likely to be revisited before long.
Few newspapers have tried such a hybrid system, making readers pay only for content that is considered premium. And some that have - including The New York Times, parent of The Boston Globe - have abandoned it.
Since his bid last spring for Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of the Journal, Murdoch has repeatedly made it clear that his instinct was to make the website free, which could greatly increase the number of people who read the paper online.
The added traffic, he argued, would generate more than enough ad revenue to offset the loss of subscription fees, which Dow Jones executives put at $70 million a year.
But Dow Jones executives argue that the firewall not only generates revenue, it also creates an elite audience of high-income, business-oriented readers whom advertisers pay a premium to reach.
The Journal has a million paying online subscribers, some of whom also subscribe to the paper in print.