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WILL CYBER-READERS PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE?

It might be the biggest media event of the year, at least for those who buy their ink by the barrel. On Sept. 21, The Wall Street Journal will begin charging for an electronic version of the daily paper it now posts on the World Wide Web, at wsj.com.

Publishers and ``content providers'' everywhere will be watching for one thing: How many of the 650,000 people who have taken advantage of a free trial offer for the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition since April will stick around? Indeed, will Web surfers, who are used to freebies, pay up? ``If it turns out we can't generate a lot of online subscriptions, then a lot of other companies will have to reexamine their plans,'' says WSJ-I editor Neil Budde.

MOVING CAUTIOUSLY. If there's one publication that can get consumers to change their ways, it should be the Journal. Many of its 1.9 million readers charge their subscriptions to their employers, and the Journal has put lots of extras into its online product. In addition to everything found in the U.S. and international print editions, there are frequent updates, detailed company reports, and a customized ``Personal Journal,'' which gives subscribers tailored news and stock quotes. ``If we wanted to give it away, it would be a different product,'' says Tom Baker, business director for the 35-employee Interactive Div.

But even the Journal is proceeding with caution. The switch to paid subscriptions has already been pushed back from its original date of July 31, and the company is giving away free subscriptions to users of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser through yearend. Even the new rates, $49 a year, or $29 for subscribers to the print version, are low, compared with the $164 a year that print readers pay.

The Journal isn't talking about early results. But, since Aug. 1, when WSJ-I readers were required to register and provide credit-card information, the rate of new readers coming to the system--until then 2,000 to 4,000 a day--dropped by more than half. The goal is 50,000 paying subscribers by yearend--a modest target, but enough to make the WSJ-I the Net's top subscription service. ``The next few weeks will tell the story,'' says Baker. The whole online world is watching.

By Amy Cortese


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Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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