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U.S. economic newspaper WSJ to start Japanese-language website. Newspaper sales hitting the wall, can they find way to stay in business by charging a price on the net?

5, 19. 2009

   The U.S. economic newspaper Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is to start a website in Japanese. This is believed to be aimed at expanding over the world its online distribution by charging a price. It seems that difficulty facing the management of the publication of the newspaper is in the background. Some people are doubtful, however, if the company can obtain a satisfactory number of readers through charging of a price.

Trying to get customers in Japan, a major market in Asia

WSJ website for Asia that started in February
WSJ website for Asia that started in February

   There must be many people who wonder why such a well-established economic newspaper as the WSJ has taken a decision to open a website in Japanese.

   The Wall Street Journal, published by the major U.S. media company Dow Jones & Co., was America's representative quality newspaper that was inaugurated in 1889. The newspaper announced on May 7, 2009 that it would start a website version in the Japanese language within this year by establishing a joint company with the leading Japanese internet financing company SBI Holdings, Inc. by the end of May. SBI used to be part of the SoftBank group, and it came to known to the public when its CEO, Yoshitaka Kitao, acted as a white knight in a move to buy Fuji Television.

   To be offered on the new website will be Japanese translations of news reports, including those carried by the Barron's magazine, the information periodical of the newspaper and Dow Jones, and financial information to be provided by SBI Securities. Distribution on the site of video pictures provided by Fox Television, which is part of the parent company of Dow Jones, News Corp., is also being considered. The news reports are basically for paid distribution, but some part are said to be obtainable for free.

   As a reason for starting the Japanese-language website, SBI Holdings said the purpose is to "attract readers in Japan, which has a big market in Asia."

   In Asia, the Chinese-language site was inaugurated in 2002 in China, where the number of subscriptions has reached 500,000. The Japanese-language site will be the second site to be inaugurated in Asia in the local language. In English, the sites of the Asian and Indian versions were opened in February 2009.

   Dow Jones is believed to be expanding the business in Asia because of the big market potentiality in Asia. In the United States, even major newspaper companies are facing management difficulty because of declining revenues from advertising. The WSJ is not exception to this situation. It is trying to increase revenues from distribution of news reports on the internet by charging a price to meet the difficulty. But the earning is limited from such distribution in one country. This seems to be the reason why the company is expanding the business in various countries of the world in their local languages.

   SBI Holdings, the tie-up partner in the business in Japan, said it is aimed at luring its own new clients by offering the Japanese translation of the WSJ news items to securities companies and other clients.

Doubtful if there are enough readers of commentaries, features

   The U.S. Bloomberg is said to be monopolizing the financial news distribution, and it is also distributing Japanese language news reports in Japan. Again this backdrop, there is no guarantee that the WSJ can win the competition, although it is known as a quality paper.

   SBI Holdings says: Efforts will be made to distribute fast reports, but editorials will be the main items. They will be in-depth reports about the global economy. These items are regarded as influential watchers in the United States. It is possible to adjust them to meet the Japanese needs.

   The critic who is an expert on the relations between the internet and media, Akihiro Utada, expressed a doubtful view about the possibility of the WSJ winning the competition:

"There is a limited number of readers of The Wall Street Journal in Japan. The newspaper is less known in Japan than in America. So the key for a success will be how low the cost can be pushed down. There would be a limit to setting fees for offering only in-depth reports. It would also be a matter for study how to collect accesses."

   Mass media was under such a spotlight at one time that livedoor and other IT firms moved to buy television stations. While media companies are now facing management difficulty, however, Utada noted that it is now impossible to find buyers for newspaper companies even in the United States. Newspaper companies might become luggage for firms now, he added. About SBI's decision to become the tie-up partner, Utada said the company may be aiming at a secondary development, such as making use of value added service of the membership service of the company's group. This could be the possibility the company is looking at, he said.

   About the impact on the Japanese media of the advance into Japan of the WSJ, he said The Wall Street Journal's advance into Japan has a major psychological impact. But, initially, there should be only a limited threat in reality, he said. He further said it could be a potential threat on such companies as Nikkei and that it would be advisable to take a wait-and-see stance for the time being.

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