Will free samples increase newspaper subscriptions?

By Katelyn Philipp

A recent article from Folio says The Wall Street Journal offered free access to its website on Nov. 8.  While viewers can normally read articles online without paying, exclusive content is reserved for subscribers.  For one day the entire site was open.

The Wall Street Journal's subscription bar at the top of its homepage was gone on Nov. 8. Photo by Sam Beebe via Flickr

The question is, will this ‘free sample’ increase subscriptions?

Newspapers are trying to increase their online presence, like the magazine and e-book industries.  I’m sure The Wall Street Journal website traffic increased for the day, but I’m not convinced it will do so in the long run.  While free samples are supposed to make customers want to buy the product, I think many people simply take advantage of them to get free stuff. They won’t necessarily end up paying for it.

People can see a lot of content on The Wall Street Journal’s website, and I don’t think they will pay to see the exclusive articles.  They can get free news by simply turning on the television or checking other media outlets on their phone or computer.  We access so many different sources daily that I don’t think people would be willing to pay for any certain one.

The Wall Street Journal is following the digital trend of consuming news though.  According to a Pew Research Center study, nearly 50% of adults access news through a computer or mobile device.  They typically use free apps though, because not many people are paying.

Currently, only 10% of adults use mobile apps to connect to local news and information have paid for those apps, according to our survey.  This represents only 1% of the total U.S. adult population.

The Wall Street Journal tried something new to boost readership and revenue, but we will have to wait to see if it is a success.

Would or do you pay to receive full-access to a news website? Do you think more people will subscribe to The Wall Street Journal after Nov. 8?

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9 responses to “Will free samples increase newspaper subscriptions?

  1. I think you’re right. I believe it would take a lot longer than one day to get customers so into the subscriber content that they would pay. And The Wall Street Journal would have to be the first on a lot of different stories. They would need something no one else has, and they just don’t. You’re right that news is so widespread and on so many different media that people don’t find it worth paying for. Unless media makes all of their content subscription-only (when pigs fly), no one is going to pay. That option would not make customers happy and would undermine the citizen-serving aspect of news anyway.

  2. While it may not increase their subscription rate immensely, the free sample could motivate some people to purchase. If WSJ knew many people were on the fence about subscribing, this free news day could benefit them. But, I have to agree with you ladies that it will take a lot more than one small sample to make me buy a product.

  3. I think offering a premium is a good tactic. I know once I get addicted to a program or site, I usually am willing to upgrade to a paid version in order to get the content I want.
    I think the programs and sites that are seeing success with this are NY Times online and the new music site, Spotify.
    It will be interesting if this will be a popular trend or if iPad and mobile additions that you have to pay for will be a new source of revenue for publications. Interesting topic.

    • You’re right, it looks like the Wall Street Journal could be following the New York Times and Spotify. I think mobile apps will be used more than news sources turning to “free sample” days because accessibility is such a huge factor.

  4. I agree with Marina. I think that for some people it will motivate them to purchase a subscription, but it won’t do so to a substantial amount. Most people, like you said, are into “free” stuff so they’ll just utilize the free samples without actually buying into the full subscription.

  5. I think there’s definite merit to offering free content for one day, but, as Katie noted, people can get the same stories elsewhere. These substitutes won’t be by WSJ reporters, of course, but breaking news stories and other common content is still accessible. It’s a tough situation, as we all know, because online newspapers have to essentially decide between giving away content for free and losing readership when they require subscriptions.

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