$18 Million: Cost Benefit Analysis on the Journal

It has been a month now. At the beginning of the year, as everyone who is reading this certainly knows, The Wall Street Journal reduced the width of the paper to save $18 million. My visceral reaction was negative, but I wanted to give it a month and see if the new size would “grow” on me. Unfortunately the opposite has happened; my perception of The Wall Street Journal is that the paper is less than it used to be. This is not what I hoped would occur.

After all, reading The Wall Street Journal has been a daily part of my life since I began graduate business school in 1971. In those days, there was The Wall Street Journal and then there were newspapers; The Wall Street Journal was different. It was a paper about business, people, trends, opinions, analysis. In short, The Wall Street Journal was a paper that was read by successful people. It followed that if you read The Journal, you too could become a successful person. Advertisements in media of all kinds that wanted to show achievers would often use The Wall Street Journal as a prop.

Not only did The Wall Street Journal exude success, but it was an interesting read. Legendary Chief Executive Officer Barney Kilgore was the architect behind the growth in readership and advertising in WSJ with his philosophy that business news didn’t have to be dull. The Journal wasn’t, and by the late ’70s it was the newspaper with the largest circulation in America. Dow Jones was voted in the annual Fortune magazine survey one of the three best-managed companies in America, along with IBM and Merck.

With that success went a certain amount of ribbing. “The three most arrogant groups of people in the world are Harvard Business School graduates, IBM salesmen and Wall Street Journal reporters.” Because of what The Wall Street Journal was and who it reached, everyone returned even the most junior Wall Street Journal reporters’ phone calls. I know I did, and I am always excited when one of our analysts or a piece of our research is quoted or referenced. Despite its more diminutive size, its attempt to reach a broader audience with more diverse content, a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter will still get the attention of any business executive today.

In my view, The Journal and wsj.com in combination are still the definitive business sources. However, the print version just isn’t what it used to be when it was bigger and more imposing. Today The Wall Street Journal begins a new advertising campaign that features celebrities, athletes, cultural figures and in today’s ad, a businessman, David Neeleman, chief executive of JetBlue, with the tag line “every journey needs a Journal.” Maybe this new campaign will change my mind, but I doubt it. I don’t know what The Journal spent on creative or what its media budget is for advertising outside of the Dow Jones family of companies. But personally, I wish it had kept the old size and not created the new ad campaign.

Every company makes its own decisions about how best to attract customers and generate revenues, and I am sure Dow Jones executives did substantial research before making the change in the size of the paper. Perhaps tens of thousands of 20- and 30-somethings will now start to read The Journal. Certainly the most recent online solicitation that I have received offering a full year of The Journal AND access to wsj.com is sure to attract new subscriptions, if only because the online version is easily worth the $99.

I suppose there is a good chance that I’m unhappy with the new size just because it is a change, and I have spent my whole business career with a publication that has a certain look and feel to it. I’m in the business of encouraging people to accept and embrace change, so my strong dislike for the new paper makes me uncomfortable. Still, I have given it a month and I like the larger size better.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Mike

    The New York Times writes about the new WSJ ad campaign here

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