Much noise has been made about whether newspapers and magazines can cure their ailing fortunes by charging for iPhone and iPad apps or whether they're better off sticking with a free ad-supported model. With the release of the iPad in particular, publishers are not only shifting to a pay model but charging a premium over typical iPhone prices for tablet versions of apps.
The Wall Street Journal appears to want to have it both ways, offering a "free" iPhone and iPad apps that offer some free content but charge a subscription for the full version. The iPhone app is $8 a month and the new iPad edition is double that. Current Journal subscribers get full access to the new iPad app for "a limited time." Ok, so that's the Journal's twist on the "freemium" model, similar to what it does on the desktop, providing a limited amount of free content and charging for the premium version.
The problem is that when it bills the apps as free in the App Store it looks more like a bait-and-switch scheme, especially if someone doesn't click through to read the full app descriptions. The promotional pages also don't mention any pricing for subscriptions for full access to the newspaper.
The Journal's app strategy is pissing people off. "Very excited to be able to read the WSJ on my new iPad only to find that this is NOT a free app. You have to pay a subscription to get almost any content. False advertising," read one App Store review, expressing sentiments echoed by many others. "Hard to believe, but they are asking for almost double the print price to subscribe to something with almost zero distribution costs," read another. The overall rating for the Journal iPad is 1.5 out of five stars, based on more than 26,00 ratings.
News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has made no bones about demanding payment for digital content-this week exhorting all newspapers to "stand up" to search engines like Google and Microsoft's Bing by preventing them from linking to full articles for free. As an ardent champion of paid content, why is Murdoch offering free Wall Street Journal apps that really aren't? If he truly believes in the model, why not make it clear the iPhone and iPad apps are really subscription-based? The Journal only seems to be succeeding in alienating consumers with the fake free approach on the iPhone and iPad.