While other sites timidly wade into the waters of charging Net subscriptions, the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition continues to plow forward, proving that Netizens are willing to pay for some content.
Today, the WSJ's publisher, Dow Jones & Company, announced that the Interactive Edition surpassed the 200,000-subscriber "milestone."
While 200,000 paying readers is hardly a large number for online services and communities that measure their customers in millions, it is a significant number for sites trying to charge people for access to a single online publication.
In fact, few publications have successfully charged for Web content. Although many point to the WSJ to show that people are willing to pay for material on the Web, a medium filled with free content, others call it and Playboy notable exceptions. The fact that those two are doing well shows how strong brand recognition--and content--must be to attract subscribers on the Net.
In the past few months, others--including e-zines and established print publications--have been attempting to follow the subscription model, saying they can't make money from advertising alone.
Perhaps most notably is Microsoft's Slate, which began charging for subscriptions in February. A month later, Slate announced that 10,000 subscribers had signed up for the product, putting it halfway toward its goal of signing up 20,000 subscribers in the first few months.
Salon also has announced that it will begin charging, but only for a portion of its content. It has not done so yet.
Many newspapers, such as the New York Times, only charge for some search services and interactive games--services not readily available to print customers.
The WSJ, on the other hand, charges $49 per year for a subscription to all its content, including the articles from its print edition and features such as business portfolios and background pieces. Print subscribers pay $29 per year for the online edition.
Thomas Baker, business director of the Journal's online edition, said that the 200,000 mark was especially significant because most of the online readers--two-thirds--were not already print subscribers.
Plus, he added, 80 percent of its readers appear to be renewing their online subscriptions, which the paper began offering in August 1996.
"The people who came in the first year--we weren't sure if they were just experimenters," Baker noted.
The WSJ online meets Netizens' needs for content, research, and in-depth background, he said. Readers also clearly find the control they have over when and how they use information to be an important feature.
Some subscribers, for instance, religiously read every story. Others use their personal portfolios as their home pages, according to Baker.
Print publications by their nature are driven by a set publication schedule, he said. But online, a reader has full control over when and often how they get the information they are seeking.
Although the Journal may be more the exception than the rule because it has several features others don't have--including a widely respected brand name and national distribution--others can take a few pointers from its relative success, Baker added.
Most importantly, content matters, and the Web can't just be a vehicle to repurpose newspaper and magazine material. For example, business is a natural online. "We've got a great thing to cover here that makes for very good, compelling ongoing coverage," Baker said. "The other thing that might be a lesson is that online, people expect a whole lot of depth.
"I think in a way, online people have higher expectations of what ought to be there in terms of being able to give every aspect of the story, and that's something that people really value online. And if you can really put the pieces together, people don't have any trouble paying for that kind of depth."