Sunday, May 2, 2010

Battle of the bottom lines

In an interesting addition to the print media vs online content debate, it seems that Rupert Murdoch is doing his best to reignite the war between the dailies in the face of falling circulation figures and the increased availability of digital content (The Australian, 03/05/10, WSJ takes no prisoners in home-turf tussle with Times').

Previously reputed to be a rather staid publication with primarily a business and finance focus, the purchase of the Wall Street Journal by Murdoch in 2007 laid the foundation for an almighty challenge to the dominance of The New York Times. Recently, the WSJ launched a 16 page accompaniment dedicated to New York that has become a regular feature, in an attempt to connect with a new audience and; according to managing editor Robert Thomson, 'widen our revenue base'. In an appeal to the localism for which New Yorkers are so renowned, the WSJ are quick to highlight their use of local writers, as opposed to the Times who outsource regional content.

It seems however that 'widening the revenue base' is secondary to the WSJ's lust to poach Times readers. Aside from appealing to the localism of readers, tactics employed by the Journal include slashing advertising rates in an endeavour to further squeeze revenue from the Times. This is not the first time Murdoch has placed achievement of an agenda ahead of the financial bottom line - consider the example of his acquisition of The Times of London in 1981. Murdoch proceeded to aggressively poach readership from rival The Daily Telegraph by invoking strategies such as: drastically reducing subscription prices and the introduction of coupon deals in order to lure readers. The Daily Telegraph survived the onslaught, however the dominant theme in both instances seems to be Murdoch's willingness to value the pursuit of a personal challenge over fiscal considerations.

The battle of the New York dailies seems somewhat antequated in the current digital age where the prevalence of online news content is ever-increasing. The rampant, ego-driven battle is akin to the airline price wars in which companies are competing on a financial basis that is ultimately unsustainable. Experts predict that the tactics used will prove to be detrimental to both publications. Time will tell, however in the meantime it makes for an absorbing tussle in which the consumer is the ultimate victor.

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