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Wall Street Journal May Be Set Free

Right now the Wall Street Journal web site cost $79/year for full online access. New owner Rupert Murdoch (CEO of News Corp.), however, said today at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York that he is leaning toward making the site free. According to Reuters, analysts worry that the move will slice out a reliable revenue stream for one of the few Internet media properties that has managed to attract a paying clientele, which may not be able to be recouped with ad sales.

Murdoch disagrees. “Will you lose $50 million to $100 million in revenue? I don’t think so,” he told investors. “If the site is good, you’ll get much more.” The Wall Street Journal doesn’t have to make any hasty decisions. Rival paper, the New York Times did away with its pay section, Times Select, just yesterday in the hopes of attracting more ad revenue. Murdoch and company can wait to see how it works for the Times before trying anything similar with the Journal.

The New York Times announced that it will also be making its archives from 1987-present free, along with the 1851-1922 archives, which are in the public domain. Content from 1923-1986 may carry a charge, though some will be free.

Of the 787,400 subscribers to Times Select, just 227,000 were paying customers — the rest were free accounts at educational institutions or print subscribers who were granted free access. The Times said that it made about $10 million per year from those subscribers.

Tech.Blorge estimates that if the newly unlocked content can increase pageviews at the site by 14%, the company will make enough money from ads to replace the lost suscriber revenue.

Free content doesn’t work for all online businesses, however. Social networking and dating site Hot Or Not told its customers today that it will be switching back to a paid model. Earlier this year, Hot Or Not made the risky move of removing the requirement for members to have paid accounts to talk to each other, in the process cutting out a $500,000/month revenue stream. Initially, it looked like a good decision — traffic surged, as did revenue from ads and virtual gifts. The reason for the switch back to a paid model? Spam. “You also warned us that this would probably lead to more spammers and fake profiles. You were right, this is exactly what happened,” wrote the site’s founders in an email to member explaining the switch back to the old model.

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