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The Wall Street Journal Schools Us on Web Subscriptions

A while back, Levitt wondered why the Wall Street Journal charges for its online version while other papers generally offer their content ice for free. Sure enough, we have an answer. Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has an editorial in today’s Journal (available for free!) titled “How to Sink a Newspaper.” It offers a detailed explanation of the print/online dynamic and makes a strong case for subscription-only sites.

Most striking is Hussman’s statement that, while newspapers generate between $500 and $900 in annual revenue per print subscriber, an average news site generates just $5 to $10 annually per unique visitor — though, of course, there’s the fact that putting your content online can heavily increase your overall readership. Meanwhile, his correlation between offering free-access web sites and falling print subscription rates seems to skirt the other possible causes of circulation decline (such as the argument that print itself is in trouble). Still, Hussman makes a good point: especially when advertising dollars are concerned, Web sites and newspapers are very different animals.

(Hat tip: David Ozburn)