Paying the Paper: The Wall Street Journal on the iPad for $17.99?

Traditional media outlets are slowly letting everyone know what the iPad versions of their publications are going to cost, through the time-honoured channel of subtle press leaks.  This raises the question of whether paid news content on the iPad is going to be the “killer app” some hope it will be—or die on arrival.

Engadget reports that the Wall Street Journal is likely to be available on the iPad for $17.99 / month, a tangible savings on the print subscription price of $29 / month (prices in US dollars).

The problem is, an awful lot of people are used to getting their news for free these days, particularly in the iPad-purchasing demographic.  With a few minor exceptions, the world’s major news providers flood the Web with free content, relying only on advertising revenue for finance.  Where people pay for their online news, they expect an advertising-free experience, something that is apparently not in the cards for iPad editions.

Then again, the news industry is edging steadily away from providing content online for free.  Setting aside the bias of a writer who likes to get paid, when something usually available for free suddenly costs money, it becomes less popular.  People complain when they have to pay more money for things.  Take iPhone tethering, for example; most people object fiercely to having to pay twice to use their mobile data plan.  The “culture of free” has become deeply entrenched, and it’s going to be a hard sell to move people back to paid news content.

Still, the overlap between the iPad demographic and the Wall Street Journal‘s readership is not exactly poverty-stricken.  It’s doubtful that anyone would buy an iPad just to subscribe to an electronic version of one newspaper or magazine, so the cost savings will probably appeal to people who are getting the device in any case.  They’re not going to object that strongly to advertising, which would still be present in the higher-cost print edition anyway.

That being said, publications like Men’s Health, that aren’t planning on offering their iPad version for less than the newsstand price, are clearly just going for the cash grab—and likely to find their hands empty at the end of the day.

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley