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WSJ Online Launches 'Afternoon Report'

NEW YORK -- Looking to add another carrot to its premium Web offerings, the Wall Street Journal on Monday announced the soft launch of a new product -- Afternoon Report -- an add-on that updates with fresh news twice during the day.

WSJ Online publisher Scott Schulman told internetnews.com the Afternoon Report would serve as "another hook" to reel in subscribers to the WSJ.com site, which charges $79 a year for access (print subscribers pay $39 per year).

The Afternoon Report, which looks very much like a blog linking to stories from within the WSJ's network of sites, will provide a summary of news stories that break after the printing of the morning paper.

Schulman, who presented a keynote address at the Jupiter Online Media Conference, said Afternoon Report would also be offered as an e-mail product to existing subscribers. "It will be updated by an editor twice a day, at midday and after markets close, and is a great way for us to attract new subscribers and add value to our premium offerings," Schulman said.

He called the service a professional update of "all the business and world news since the morning paper," instead of the usual "compiling of news stories by a search engine."

Schulman's announcement came on a day when the "pay vs free" debate dominated the conference discussions. The WSJ publisher, who also serves as president of Consumer Electronic Publishing, Dow Jones & Company, reiterated his company's sole commitment to the premium market, insisting that "valuable content must carry a price."

"We have a basic philosophy. It costs money to create valuable content. If it has value to consumers, then it must carry a price," Schulman declared, boasting that the WSJ.com's 675,000 paying subscriber base also provided a premium outlet for online advertisers.

"If we were a newspaper, only six newspapers in the United States would have more paid subscribers. So, in our minds, that's a very large base of paying readers," he added.

He dismissed suggestions that a small base of readers could not provide value for advertisers. "We are a subscription site. Readers value our content so much that they are willing to pay for it. If they value this content, then that provides even more value for the advertisers," Schulman said, noting that the Journal charges a premium price for advertising on its paid site, rates that sometimes exceed $100 CPM.

He said the WSJ's network of sites was also able to be strict about the ad formats it accepted from advertisers, even if it means turning down campaigns that asked for "dancing and jumping" ads.

Schulman conceded the paid model suppressed ad inventory but insisted the WSJ's network of sites, some of them free, helped serve enough ad impressions to balance out the number. "We have always been viewed as a bit of an odd duck because we were charging for content when everyone else was free but, in a down ad cycle, it was a huge advantage for us to have subscription revenues."

Schulman's pro-premium gospel was in stark contrast to the stance by the vice president of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, Michael Rogers. He argued that the existing Internet structure was too primitive to support premium content in a general interest setting.

Rogers, who doubles and editor and general manager of Newsweek.MSNBC.com and vice president of the Newsweek Web site slammed the browser-based publishing platform as a "rotten place," arguing that the paid content market will never mature unless newer platforms that support rich media gain critical mass.

"The general interest category is locked to being free until we have acceptable reading devices other than the browser. The post-browser publishing platform, where a reader can quickly download rich media and have that media update wirelessly throughout the day, is the platform that will offer opportunities for subscriptions," Rogers declared.