Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dow Jones Navigates the Channel of Online Transition with Profits in Tow

paidContent.org notes the Dow Jones boardroom resignation of Dieter von Holtzbrinck in protest over the pending News Corp deal, but away from the acquisition soap opera are some interesting details culled from the recent Dow Jones earnings report. Though overall earnings are down notably online revenues are up 5 percent and paid subscribers to The Wall Street Journal Online grew 23.6%, buoyed in part by a USD 99 combo package for the print and online edition. These are good numbers at a time in which business news is challenged in all directions by new sources. Think of the WSJ as the world's largest country club, a point of social distinction that allows one to join an elite (kind of) group for very nominal greens' fees.

It's a model that social media plays will be leveraging more in search of high-value focused market segments, which begs to some degree when WSJ will be doing more to integrate community features into their platform. I have great respect for Gordon Crovitz and his business acumen, but the WSJ's shyness on social media is likely to leave additional "gated community" revenues to others in time. And perhaps time will be the factor - they aren't growing any more WSJs any time soon, as Rupert Murdoch knows very well, so Crovitz and others with deeply entrenched media brands seem content to let their content become contextualized elsewhere. A little imagination is in order here to consider how to build a new clubhouse at this online country club - for premium fees, of course.

Meanwhile over at Dow Jones Enterprise Media the Factiva buyout makes things look temporarily rosy on the unit's top line but Factiva's compartively thin profits dragged down the unit's operating margins to 23.2 percent. The Enterprise Media unit is another example of where Clare Hart does a magnificent job of talking about Web 2.0 but so far has not really touched its potential to change the fundamental profitability of a licensed content aggregation business. By contrast Thomson Financial's recent deal to incorporate executive background briefings and private company profiles from Generate is a key foray to use Web content to build premium content revenues via direct extensions to their core content sets. The New Aggregation that we talked about a few years ago, in which publishers and aggregators must embrace Web-generated content and contexts aggressively to generate better margins, is now being embraced by key business information providers very aggressively.

Hopefully the Factiva buyout will enable Dow Jones to infuse their Factiva investment with more capabilities incorporating Web content that will improve both margins and content quality - once News Corp acquisition formalities have settled down. In the meantime here's hoping that Dow Jones' model for online and enterprise success continues to broaden both coverage and online audience engagement.
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