WSJ.com Explores New Products, Fees

Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal, has taken the wraps off its new, much-touted version of the paper’s Web site, complete with several glitches.

The redesign of the nearly six-year-old WSJ.com is aimed at fetching more money from advertisers, and from subscribers.

The enhancements, on which Dow Jones spent about $28 million, include restructured menus and news now organized by industry. But its biggest change involves providing personalized information on the WSJ.com homepage, such as user-selected columnists, stock portfolio updates and company news.

Not all was well for the revamped site on its first day of operation, however. Site outages, slow loading and broken links were common throughout much of the day. Also, the site’s personalization features were taken offline until evening, with only a cryptic message left to explain the absence to subscribers: “Notice to Readers: Personalization features are temporarily unavailable.”

Spokespeople said site adminstrators were aware of the problems, and were working to remedy the errors.

The gaffe is especially embarassing considering that the new site and its personalization features had been widely promoted in a mass emailing to subscribers on Monday morning, and by executives during Dow Jones’ quarterly earnings call and analyst briefing last week.

Moreover, the site’s enhancements serve as the centerpiece of redoubled efforts by the publisher to increase revenue from WSJ.com.

“This is about a lot more than just an updated look and design,” said Dow Jones’s Scott Schulman, who is vice president of strategic planning and development and head of the publisher’s electronic initiatives, during a meeting last week with analysts. “State of the art personalization … will enable WSJ.com to serve not only as the ultimate business news product, but also as a vertical information product … allowing us to increase our reach to business people that are focused on … vertical markets.”

For the privilege of accessing that personalized information, users will have to cough up more money, however. According to sources close to WSJ.com, the company is considering charging people up to $70 per year if they don’t subscribe to the print edition, or $35 if they do. (Those prices would represent a sizable premium over the current fees of $59 and $29, respectively.)

“We’re focused on increasing usage with new product features … but we believe our new enhancements will make the site even more essential and valuable to customers,” Schulman said. “Reflecting the increased value from our many product enhancements, we plan an increase in subscription rates later this year.”

Additionally, the site overhaul is said to include a host of improvements on the back-end, many of which were undertaken with an eye to increasing revenue. For one thing, Dow Jones’ developers are in the process of installing a new data capture and analysis system, which Schulman said would better allow WSJ.com to tailor editorial content and subscription offerings.

But the Journal isn’t distancing itself entirely from advertising as a major source of income. Sources close to WSJ.com said it is working to develop special advertising products in conjunction with its personalization features. The enhanced database will come into play for advertisers as well, in audience segmentation and selling.

“We are continuing to invest in improving the product, and are pursing a wide range of revenue growth strategies, but our overarching goals are to build a sustainability and profitable business,” Schulman said. “The Wall Street Journal Online is a critical element of the overall Dow Jones strategic plan. By leveraging our brands and content to reach a growing base of new and younger leaders, WSJ.com is a key part of our growth strategy.”

Schulman maintained that the changes would have significant bottom-line results for Dow Jones — contributing to $20 million growth in annual operating income within three years.

After the publishing giant gets them working properly, that is.

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