The Wall Street Journal's decision to stay a paid site has been the focus of a lot of blogger ire in the last week. Scott Karp just posted an article on it entitled "WSJ.com Remains A Paid Site And Bets On The Value Of Its Niche Audience". The article is a good read and basically lays out how the Wall Street Journal has a niche market that is extremely valuable to advertisers which is why the subscription model makes sense. But what makes Mr Karp's post amazing (and a little disturbing) is that he lays out tons of evidence as to why WSJ.com made the right decision and then does a 180 at the end of the post saying this...
It seems unlikely that WSJ can retain its high-value audience profile long-term against the lure of the larger web — that is so long as WSJ only offers its own original content.
Imagine the power the WSJ brand would have to point people to the best financial content across the web — just as the New York Times admitted it couldn’t be the last word in technology coverage when it started aggregating technology headlines from across the web.
Would a new generation of executives and active investors pay the WSJ to be the best source of not only original reporting but ALL reporting in their niche?
This seems like an example of someone so set in a certain way of thinking that they are missing the forest for the trees.
Here's the thing, in the Web as in real life there is going to be more than one business model that works. So there is no reason why subscription based content can't coexist with free content. What determines whether a subscription model will work is the quality of the content being offered by subscription.
This brings me to the NY Times example which bloggers are so fond of these days. Yes, the New York times stopped being a subscription based site and Yes I believe that was the right decision. But the reason for that is because, to be blunt, the NY Times quality of writing has fallen drastically in recent years. It really has come to the point where some of the quality political bloggers out there are as good if not better than the columnists employed by the NY Times.
So the NY Times no longer had any unique value to offer the consumer which is why their subscription model was failing miserably. The Wall Street Journal still manages to employ industry leading columnists and editors who report exclusively for WSJ.com. As long as they can continue to keep access to those people behind the pay wall I don't think they'll have any trouble competing against the web as a whole.
There are many smart people out there with blogs just as in the pre-blog world there were many smart people at newspapers other than the Wall Street Journal. But the paper WSJ continued to sell because they focused on having the best people write for them and I don't see why WSJ.com can't thrive by doing the same.