`WSJ' finally shows hand with its Weekend Edition

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This Saturday's inaugural Weekend Edition of The Wall Street Journal is perhaps the biggest bet yet by Peter R. Kann, chairman-CEO of Dow Jones & Co., and his wife, Karen Elliott House, publisher at The Journal and a Dow Jones senior VP.

The unusual husband and wife team is under increasing pressure to reverse the company's stock-price decline, sliding ad sales and eroded morale at one the country's largest and most respected newspapers. Last month's rumors that the younger generation of the controlling shareholder, the Bancroft family, would force a sale were just one manifestation.

The Journal has also seen the recent defections of top staff, including Joanne Lipman, one of the chief architects of the Weekend Edition, to join Conde Nast Publications and last week's departure of Paul M. Barrett, a Page One news editor, to BusinessWeek.

For The Journal, it had better be a very good Weekend. It is spending undisclosed but undoubtedly vast sums on the venture pinned on the belief that landing new consumer advertising will pull it out of the doldrums. One carrot being offered: a new, $60,000 full-color ad position on the front page of the Money & Investing section, being introduced this Saturday and continuing in the weekday paper.

90 advertisers

More than 90 advertisers have bought space in the Weekend Edition for this year (although it declined to identify most). They include LandsEnd; SubZero Freezer Co.; BMW of North America, promoting its Certified Pre-Owned cars; Barclays Capital, the investment banking arm of Barclays PLC; and the jewelry retailer Harry Winston. But many of the Weekend Edition advertisers are longtime players in The Journal, not newcomers. Harry Winston, for example, will use the Weekend Edition every Saturday through the holidays in addition to its usual flight in the main news section.

"Although I would like to think that it's going to be read on Saturday morning and people will come promptly shopping at Harry Winston on Saturday afternoon, my suspicion is that it will be read sometime Sunday afternoon," said Susy Korb, chief marketing officer there. "And that's fine. To get the Journal reader in a relaxed environment, to get couples reading the paper together, is exactly the kind of environment we're looking for."

This is what The Journal hopes, anyway. "We've wanted for years to get into the weekend space where a lot of people spend a lot of time reading," said Paul E. Steiger, managing editor at The Journal and VP, Dow Jones.

The undisclosed Saturday advertisers that are new, though, come from promising categories like retail, consumer electronics, apparel, entertainment, luxury, liquor, home and travel.

Some questioned the long-term payoff. "It has some very appealing characteristics," said Lauren Rich Fine, analyst at Merrill Lynch, which does investment banking work for Dow Jones. "I'm pretty skeptical financially. ... There's only so much advertising they're going to get on Saturday."

The Journal came to a different conclusion over the past few years. In the untroubled months of 2000, financial and technology advertising comprised 55.6% of the ad linage in the Journal. In the troubled years since, of course, those sectors' share has atrophied to 33.2% last year.

General success

To some degree the rising proportion of "general" advertising represents success for the paper. But advertising in all three sectors has been slipping. From January through July, ad linage at The Journal declined 6.3% from the comparable period last year. Only "classifieds and other" rose, by 4%. Financial ad linage sank 18.8%, technology ads fell 14.7% and general slipped 2.9%.

The Weekend Edition could help boost those general numbers, media agency executives said. "It's certainly less of a risk than what Advance Publications is doing by launching a business publication," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research, Horizon Media.

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