Feb 8, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: "We're not going to be a lifestyle company," Dow Jones CEO says

Illustration of a person reading a hundred dollar bill-shaped newspaper

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Dow Jones, the parent company to the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, MarketWatch, Investor's Business Daily and Financial News, has doubled its digital subscription base from 2.43 million during the last three months of 2019 to 4.86 million in January.

Why it matters: Several major national news companies are starting to reverse course on hard subscriptions or are leaning into lifestyle products to grow. Dow Jones remains committed to its subscription strategy focused on business professionals, its CEO Almar Latour told Axios in an interview.

  • "It's about knowing your identity and knowing the area in which you play," he said. "For us, that is business and we're not confused about that."
  • "We're not going to be a lifestyle company. We're not going to be a gaming company. We're not going to be a cooking company," he said, an acknowledgement of the New York Times' business strategy. "We are going to instead focus on how we can help people make decisions."

By the numbers: Latour, who also serves as publisher of WSJ, was named CEO of Dow Jones in May 2020.

  • Under his purview, the Journal has increased its digital-only subscription base 60% from 1.93 million in the last three quarters of 2019 to 3.17 million last quarter.
  • Subscriptions to Barron's, MarketWatch and Financial News digital have more than doubled in that same time period from 435,000 to 972,000.
  • Today, roughly 80% of Dow Jones' overall revenue is generated by subscriptions, both to consumers and to enterprises, a spokesperson told Axios.

Between the lines: While most of WSJ's subscription growth occurred during 2020 — a critical election year and the onset of the pandemic — Latour isn't worried about losing momentum, given the opportunity to reach more business professionals globally and with niche products and services.

  • "We really can and will be more globally active even than we are today," he said. The company will also double down on offering niche trade news and services, such as energy transition and financial risk analysis.
  • Dow Jones, Latour said, has spent "well in excess of a billion dollars" on different data sets and companies related to coverage of energy transition in the past few years, including information services company OPIS and energy pricing and analysis firm Base Chemicals,
  • In the past two years, Latour has installed new editors to all of Dow Jones' consumer news sites, including Emma Tucker, who was named executive editor at WSJ in late 2022.

Zoom in: While declining to provide an estimate for how big a total addressable market could be for Dow Jones' subscription goals, Latour said the business market, defined by people who work at a company that are engaged in business, "is enormous."

  • He added that there's a huge opportunity in offering that audience bundled news and professional services products.
  • "Every vertical has an element a foundation of news, ideally proprietary data of some sort, analytics, and then a convening power of bringing people together in that industry. And some have a very small dose of highly targeted consulting, but it's a very small business."

The big picture: Latour's optimism in subscriptions is notable given the subscription pullback from other national news rivals.

  • The Washington Post's new CEO Will Lewis told Semafor last month that his hunch is that the existing subscription model "is creaking."
  • "We went from an advertising model to a subscription-based model, and that subscription-based model is now waning and then will enter a more significant period of decline," he said.
  • The New York Times, meanwhile, continues to find success in its subscription-first strategy, adding 300,000 digital-first subscribers last quarter to its bundle of news and lifestyle services products. Annual revenue for The Times' digital subscriptions surpassed $1 billion for the first time last quarter.

Between the lines: While WSJ makes up the vast majority of Dow Jones' paid subscription base, Latour has pushed to add paywalls to its new and existing business publications to supercharge growth across the portfolio.

  • A paywall was added to business news site MarketWatch in October 2020.
  • The company acquired Investor's Business Daily, a subscription news company, for $275 million in March 2021.
  • It began offering a "WSJ Investor Bundle" that includes digital access to WSJ, Barron's, MarketWatch & Investor's Business Daily in 2022.

What to watch: As Dow Jones' parent company News Corp. invests more in artificial intelligence, Latour sees three significant areas in which AI can play in bolstering his subscription efforts.

  1. Securing the company's intellectual property rights
  2. Workflow and tools
  3. AI-driven products that help customers analyze and mange data and insights

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Dow Jones hit 4.86 million subscribers in January, not the last three months of 2023.

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