Reading Google News today, I noticed a Wall Street Journal article about the Microsoft-Yahoo deal listed. I’d just seen that article earlier on Techmeme, when on my work computer, where I read it after having to log-in to the WSJ using my paid subscription. So imagine my surprise when going back to it on a completely different computer that I discovered I have free access, through Google News.
This intrigued me. Google has a “first click free” program hat lets subscription-based publications allow people at Google News to flow freely into their news sites without being bugged for registration, free or otherwise. I wasn’t aware of the Wall Street Journal having taken part. That’s especially so after so much recent news about Digg “freeing” the Wall Street Journal content or the off-again, on-again question if the Wall Street Journal would drop its paid wall.
Well, end the debate. As far as I can tell, there is no paid wall. And as a paid subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, I then wonder what I’m paying for.
Let me demonstrate some examples, including how it feels like the Wall Street Journal tries to make it seem like content is somehow selectively free, when it is not.
The image above shows the story I read today, listed on the Google News home page. Clicking on it brings me to the full-text:
See all those arrows? These are all places where the WSJ is telling me there’s free content, as well as the need to pay for access to “All” online content. And it’s true — much of this does seem to be free. I tested going to some of these pages directly in a separate browser, one that wouldn’t have been cookied in any way, and I was able to get in.
So what’s the problem? The word “Other” in “Other Free Content From The Wall Street Journal.” That suggests that the original article I was reading was also free. OK, it was, since I came from Google News. But it was NOT if I’d come to the Wall Street Journal directly.
That’s the current home page of the Wall Street Journal. Arrows, again. The first one points to a box where the Wall Street Journal is explicitly telling you that the stories below the box are “Subscriber Content.” And look — there’s that Yahoo article that I just read for free from Google News, that for a Google News visitor is positioned (in my view) as if it is part of the (assumedly) small amount of free content out there.
Try to go to those articles directly from the home page, and this is what you get:
As an aside, all too often I’ve ended up on “Free Preview” boxes like this only to find that the article is so short that practically all of it is already showing, wasting my time when I actually log in. Here’s a thought. If the Wall Street Journal can’t drop its paid wall, at least drop it for stories where you’re already previewing 80 to 90 percent of the content.
Interestingly, the first article listed in the Subscriber Content area is this:
Clicking on that allows you to read the entire thing. Despite being labeled Subscriber Content on the home page, it’s full text — making me as a paid subscriber wonder what I’m paying for.
Enough of complaining. How do you get to read articles on the site for free that might not be listed in Google News? Search for them.
For example, here’s another front page article:
If you try to read that without an account, you get only a short preview. So do this. Copy the text of the headline and search for it on Google News:
Click from there, and the article is yours to read in full. I’ve tested this on a few other stories, and I’m pretty sure it will hold up.
After poking around on my own, I decided to search and find out if this was a new thing or not. Back last July, I came across this Digital Inspiration article talking about a way to modify a Firefox extension to do this. A key part seems to be adding this to the end of any WSJ URL:
I’d already tried this without using the extension but found it wasn’t working.
Here’s another story you can read for free from Google News:
The URL, when your arrive, looks like this:
You can see that extended part that tags the URL has being generated from Google News. But here’s the actual URL you click on at Google News itself:
I’ve tried cutting that URL down in various ways, to see if there’s a particular part that’s necessary to generate the full text. So far, I’ve had no luck. That makes me think that the Wall Street Journal is detecting in some other way if the request is coming off the Google site directly.
Hopefully, someone will poke at it further and make something like the New York Times Link Generator. That service takes any New York Times article URL and makes it accessible without registration. The New York Times is now free, of course, but some people find the registration a pain.
Going back to last July, Google Operating System had an article about the Congoo site and toolbar that makes WSJ and other content free. I haven’t played with that today, but it might be worth checking out.
For more on the Wall Street Journal opening up — or not — check out these posts:
- Wall Street Journal Hearts Digg, November 2007, Search Engine Land
- The Wall Street Journal Edges Towards Free, January 2008, TechCrunch
- Why Does the Wall Street Journal Hate the Web?, February 2008, TechCrunch
By the way, I’m not against paid registration sites. I ran one for years. Sure, information wants to be free, but writers like to be paid. Paid registration is an excellent way for a web site to protect itself from an ad downturn. Why I don’t like is paying for something for no good reason. If the Wall Street Journal want to charge for its content, then I as a subscriber should be getting that exclusively. If it wants the benefit of Google traffic, then drop the paid wall.