INTERACTIVE MEDIA & MARKETING;'WSJ' PUTS SQUEEZE ON WEB SUBSCRIPTIONS;SITE LAUNCHES WITH MANDATORY FEE, BUT THE PRICE WON'T PUT A DENT IN USERS' WALLETS

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The wall street journal launches on the Web today with an aggressive business model requiring all users to pay a subscription fee.

At a base rate of $29 per year, however, the service is practically a bargain.

Print subscribers will pay just $29 annually to use The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition (http://wsj.com), while non-newspaper subscribers will pay $49. Those who sign up by May 31 can use the site free until July 31.

The challenge for the Journal will be twofold: to make the Web service different enough that it doesn't cannibalize the print circulation, and to make it valuable enough that people will pay to use it.

`REALISTS ABOUT THE WEB'

"We're realists about the Web. I don't know how this is all going to evolve, but there's still a belief that this is a market that's exploding," said Thomas Baker, Interactive Edition's business director.

Subscriptions have been a ma-jor sticking point for national newspaper brands on the Web.

The New York Times charges international users $35 per month and is evaluating charging domestic users. USA Today, meanwhile, launched with a subscription service that included Internet access as well; it eventually left that business model behind.

The Journal is confident it will attract new users and migrate many of the 345,000 registrants from its free Money and Investing Update site (http://update.wsj.com). That site closes down today to make way for Interactive Edition.

ALL OR NOTHING

Charging a subscription for a portion of its site wasn't an option for the Journal.

"Do we make certain parts free and others not?" asked Mr. Baker. "Our top-level news is what gets read. That's why people come to us. .*.*. [Our brand] doesn't lend itself to what other sites have done because it's hard to divide our content along the lines of value."

The site houses five major content areas: a front page with daily news from the domestic, Asian and European editions; Marketplace; Money; Personal Journal; and Sports.

Personal Journal, available free to Web subscribers or as a standalone product for $12.95 a month, will provide customizable features like a news retrieval service that finds stories up to 14 days old and a portfolio that tracks stocks.

With that kind of content, the Journal expects advertisers to understand the subscription model's role in creating a qualified audience.

"They recognize the strategy we're using with subscriptions," said Stephanie Miller, advertising manager.

Marketers agree, to a point.

"The jury is out on how well users will take to it," said Jeff Anderholm, VP-electronic marketing at Fidelity Investments, an advertiser on the Money and Investing site. "We've talked to other price-tiered services, though, and they're getting people to come back."

SEVERAL ADVERTISERS SIGNED

At launch, the site will contain four square ad buttons on the right side of certain screens. Premium screens are priced at $20,000 per month, and standard screens cost $15,000.

Launch advertisers include AT&T Corp., Apple Computer, Digital Equipment Corp., Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus, MCI Communications Corp., Nynex Interactive Yellow Pages and Siemens.

WHAT OTHER PAPERS THINK

While nearly every Web publisher is hungrily eyeing subscription revenue, USA Today has no plans to re-introduce a subscription model.

"Our subscription model was for Internet access, too, but over time it didn't make sense for us to do that," said Lorraine Cichowski, VP-general manager of USA Today Information Network. "We're concentrating on building market share."

The newspaper will, however, implement fees for a custom e-mail product and an eight-year archive by June 1, she said.

The New York Times is still deciding when to start charging domestic users of its Web site.

"We do feel pressure to do it.....We're researching price elasticities," said Martin Nisenholtz, president of The New York Times Electronic Media Co.

Toyota Motor Corp. and Kraft General Foods are among the site's charter sponsors.

Though the Times' business model does assume U.S. subscriptions will form a major revenue stream, Mr. Nisenholtz suggested the paper needs to build audience first to lure advertisers.

"We could never have done that [secured big marketers] off a base of a few thousand people," he said.

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