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Is WSJ.com the dog that didnt bark?

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One of the stories that I’ve been tracking for the past 18 months is the relative size of the unique audiences of Yahoo News and Google News.

Last Friday afternoon, I received the latest update from Nielsen//NetRatings of the top current events and global news destinations for June 2005.

As the chart below illustrates, the unique audience of Yahoo News has grown 37% over the past year-and-a-half to become the top current events and global news destination in the US. The unique audience of Google News has grown 119% over the same period to become one of the top 15 current events and global news destinations in the US.

Unique Audience (000), US, Home and Work

Brand/Channel

Dec. 2003

June 2004

Dec. 2004

June 2005

Yahoo! News

18,134

20,966

21,337

24,917

MSNBC.com

19,629

20,601

19,543

23,760

CNN.com

19,970

22,405

21,257

21,353

NYTimes.com

9,549

9,337

8,988

11,157

USAToday.com

5,642

7,374

8,541

8,611

Google News

3,277

6,325

6,431

7,177

Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

By comparison, the unique audience of USAToday.com has increased 53% over the past 18 months, while MSNBC.com is up 21%, NYTimes.com is up 17%, and CNN.com is up 7%.

As I looked over the data searching for trends, I was reminded of the Sherlock Holmes observation about the dog that didn’t bark.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”, Inspector Gregory asks, “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes answers, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory says, “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

And Holmes remarks, “That was the curious incident.”

So, what is the curious incident to which I would wish to draw your attention?

The Wall Street Journal is missing from the list of the top 15 current events and global news destinations in the US.

So, is the WSJ.com the dog that didn’t bark? Over the weekend, I searched for the term, business, in Google News and found only 42 out of the 325,000 stories culled from the past 30 days that were from free Journal sites. I then conducted the same search at Yahoo News and found that none of the 248,902 stories about business was from The Online Journal.

The best explanation for this curious incident comes from L. Gordon Crovitz, Dow Jones’s president of electronic publishing and corporate senior vice president. The electronic publishing group includes The Wall Street Journal Online as well as Barron’s Online, Down Jones Newswires, Dow Jones Indexes, and other web sites. Its daily output is 12,000 news items.

Crovitz was interviewed last week by Pranay Gupte for an article in The New York Sun entitled, “Extending a Venerable Brand to Conquer New Territory Online.”

In the article, Crovitz admitted, “We were criticized for charging for our content, but I believed in our model.” And, according to the article, “That belief has been justified.”

Why? The Dow Jones electronic publishing group’s annual revenues are $500 million, out of a company total of $1.55 billion. The operating income for the 1,400-person unit is $100 million, or 40% of Dow Jones’s overall total. Its Internet ad revenue alone is $60 million.

Meanwhile, Google News still hasn’t generated its first dollar in ad revenue – even though Google itself is barking all the way to the bank.

But, before concluding that Google News is the dog that did nothing in the night-time, I did some math. WSJ.com has 731,000 subscribers, who pay between $49 and $99 a year – depending on whether they also subscribe to the print Journal. That would be somewhere between $35.8 million and $72.4 million in subscription revenue.

While this is an impressive amount of money, it’s much less than the $106.8 million in subscription revenue that Consumer Reports magazine tallied in 2003, according to Advertising Age. In the first quarter of 2005, both Google and Yahoo tallied equivalent amounts of ad revenue in about three to six days. And $35.8 to $72.4 million in subscription revenue is only 7% to 14% of the Dow Jones electronic publishing group’s $500 million in annual revenues.

So, was Crovitz making a lot of noise about his entire group’s revenues and operating income an effort to obscure the fact that one of his big dogs isn’t barking?

If he is having second thoughts about a subscription-based business model, it would explain why this past January he led the acquisition of MarketWatch.com, a publicly traded company affiliated with CBS, for $528 million. Not only did MarketWatch.com bring 7 million new unique web users into the electronic publishing group’s stable, it also brings an advertising-based business model.

If Crovitz is having second thoughts about The Online Journal’s subscription-based business model, it would also explain his curious answer to Gupte’s question, “So what are (your) worries?”

That’s pretty open-ended. If you are worried about subscriptions, you might talk about the recent introduction of Yahoo! Search Subscriptions, which enables users to search access-restricted content from the Wall Street Journal and Factiva (where Crovitz is chairman) as well as from Consumer Reports, FT.com, New England Journal of Medicine, TheStreet.com, and other subscription-based news sources.

So, what are Crovitz’s worries? “We need to make a stronger effort to reach advertisers,” he said.

Now, Sherlock Holmes might conclude that the answer to this question is like the curious incident in “Silver Blaze.” I will simply conclude that Crovitz’s answer is another indication that the subscription-based business model of WSJ.com is the dog that didn’t bark. But, how can anyone know for certain? It’s elementary, my dear Watson.

Greg Jarboe is the co-founder and CEO of SEO-PR, which provides search engine optimization and public relations services to Southwest Airlines, Verizon SuperPages.com, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), and a growing list of other organizations. Jarboe is also the editor of SEO-PRs News Blog.

Is WSJ.com the dog that didnt bark?
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About Greg Jarboe
Greg Jarboe is the co-founder and CEO of SEO-PR, which provides search engine optimization and public relations services to Southwest Airlines, Verizon SuperPages.com, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), and a growing list of other organizations. Jarboe is also the editor of SEO-PRs News Blog. WebProNews Writer


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