Why the Wall Street Journal?
What happens when a publisher decides to put all of its content behind a hard paywall? And how did they attract millions of visitors every month when the whole Internet is crowded with free content.
Well, this is what we had in our mind when we chose The Wall Street Journal for our Becoming series. The Journal is one of the leading publishing houses that has tried different subscription/membership strategies and experimented with every possible tactic to grow its audience base as well as overall revenue.
The Wall Street Journal can be accessed via newspaper or magazine, website, and mobile applications. The American-based news media organization was founded by Charles Dow, Edward Jones, and Charles Bergstresser, and has been in the publishing industry since 1889. That means ~131 years of survival – pulling through World Wars, Great recessions, and so on.
..And yes, the plan to launch the online version of The Journal began even before the web world came onto the scene (Src).
Isn’t it enough to make you curious about how the publisher beat the odds and is thriving today in spite of having tough competitors like The New York Times and The Financial Times? We know you are. So, why not start from the beginning and learn something new for your business.
How it All Started?
The online version of The Wall Street Journal was launched in 1993 as Software as the Service. Since the publisher was new to the online world and the Internet was a novice, The Journal had a single-page static website by the end of 1995.
The goal was to serve the business and financial communities present in the United States. However, due to the small number of employees and lack of experience with online tools, the editorial team, initially, shared the same content as they did for the printed edition of the newspaper.
Gradually, the team started to grow and with them, the % of unique content on The Journal’s website increased. The site got organized in a different way than the print edition. But one thing that was constant since the beginning of The Journal is its subscription model.
From the day when wsj.com was launched till present, a user has to buy the subscription package to get access to the website’s content. Although the publishing company has rarely put the content outside of the paywalls, it has never seen a decline in traffic. Wondering where they stand now? Let’s have a look at the current situation of The Journal.
Where are they Today?
The Wall Street Journal has more than 69 million monthly visits, and ~52.36% of traffic comes to the website directly. In terms of growth from social media, the publisher gets ~42% of total social media traffic from Facebook.
In Q4, 2019, The Journal’s total digital subscriptions grew by 12.8% as the number of subscribers went from 1,709,000 to 1,929,000 (Src). Not only this, the revenue increased by 4% compared to 1% growth for the NYTimes in the last year.
Although The Journal built the foundation as a print brand, the publisher has made a strong online following since its debut. The Journal, as we know today, didn’t exist almost a decade ago. In recent years, the publisher has tried a number of growth strategies that we are going to discuss in this case study. So, shall we begin?
Becoming The Wall Street Journal
From Dial-up Service to Website
Building the foundation
The story started almost 27 years ago when the WSJ was distributed to the users on disks and then users would dial up to retrieve the latest updates from the newspaper. Even though the publisher planned to make its online presence before the birth of the web, it took three years to transform from disks to a website.
The full new website of The Journal was launched in July 1995 as Money & Investing Update. At that time, the publisher focused primarily on market news and tested how the electronic version of WSJ works.
Was it successful or not? Yes, it was a huge success. In just a year, the Money & Investing website garnered more than 7 million visits every week and had 325,000 registered users (Src). So, the publisher thought why not launch the website with the brand name
And after a year, in April 1996, the publisher introduced its first full online website The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. Even though the website wasn’t interactive as the name was on the homepage, it was far better than the former edition of the website.
“Our goal is to bring Wall Street Journal news values, sensibilities, and quality to what is a profoundly different medium. The Interactive Edition truly expands The Journal’s ability to keep readers informed and involved.”
– Paul Steiger, Managing Editor, The Journal (Src)
During all these years, the publisher had come up with several designs for the website. But one thing that has always been a part of The WSJ was its digital subscription model. In 1996, The Journal had 2 million subscribers to its print edition. And to appeal to the new audience, the publisher started experimenting with the digital editions of The Journal.