A bastion of old-media newspaper publishing cozying up to the big bad digital publishing-business-overturning newbie Apple? Well, kinda: The Wall Street Journal has revealed its iPad subscription plans and profiled Apple’s board of directors.
We knew there was going to be an iPad (or at least tablet PC) version of the WSJ on its way at some point, even before News Corp supremo Rupert Murdoch said so. The WSJ already has a strong online presence, and while it seems slightly odd that it would embrace Apple so readily (since the company threatens to completely overturn the publishing business) a tablet-specific version makes sound business sense. The WSJ‘s business planning team has obviously peered into their crystal ball (and at competitor The New York Times‘s strides with iPad) and decided the money and effort involved will be worth it–since iPads and their host of similar companions are pretty sure to reinvent the mobile computing business.
But what we didn’t know was exactly how the iPad version would be priced. And now we do: $17.99 per month. Which is, let’s not mince words, expensive. Why so? Because an annual subscription to the physical paper works out at around $29 a month, which is $11 more. That edition of course has to be printed, sorted, wrapped and distributed every time a new copy rolls off the presses–each subscriber’s copy then has to make its way to their home, which is a huge organizational effort. Whereas the digital edition is merely crafted once in the WSJ‘s shiny newsroom Macs and then fired into the ether, from where it basically finds its own way to your particular iPad. Surely it costs much less to do this, and thus it should be much cheaper than $18, to tempt more users to buy the darn thing? And let’s not forget that the iPad version can contain even more highly targeted advertising than the print copy, thanks to user profiling, which means the WSJ‘s ad team can get clever with its advertising fees (we already know the iPad ad business is kicking off to a highly promising start, after all.) Even more bizarrely, it’s actually a few dollars more than the WSJ charges for its Kindle edition.
So perhaps the WSJ is only half-embracing Apple’s bold new technology. The paper also has its own criticisms of how Apple runs: The recent death of Apple Board member Jerome York has prompted the WSJ to run a piece profiling Apple’s directors, and it doesn’t pull any punches. Essentially it argues that the current Apple board doesn’t contain enough dissenting voices to counteract CEO Steve Jobs, who is rarely challenged in his decisions at board level.
Even with Apple riding high and having a multi-billion-dollar cash pile sitting in the bank, more dissent could give shareholders confidence that the management team is acting in their best interests. And a strong board could have better managed how Steve Jobs’ liver transplant news was shared with the world (York was a strong critic of the half-assed way Jobs chose to manage the affair.) Along these lines, the WSJ piece makes veiled accusations that Apple’s making poor choices with its board, like, “Investors have long urged Apple’s directors to be more independent of the company’s powerful CEO,” and “Investors and governance experts said the company has a long way to go.”