Wall Street Journal to cut back print outside the US

Matthew Garrahan
A person reading the Wall Street Journal newspaper
Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal is scaling back production of its print edition outside the US as it reviews its international operations and sharpens its focus on digital subscriptions.

The print edition of the business and finance newspaper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, will no longer be available in Europe, according to two people briefed on the plans. Free copies and unprofitable hotel "amenity deals", where hotels buy bulk copies at a discount, are also being scrapped.

However, Dow Jones, the News Corp division that owns the Journal, is debating whether to continue mailing copies to subscribers who still want a physical paper.

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It is pursuing a similar approach in Asia but is in talks with a partner about a print joint venture that would continue distribution in one big market there, according to the people with knowledge of the discussions. In Australia some Wall Street Journal pages are available as an insert in The Australian, another Murdoch-owned paper.

Dow Jones declined to comment on its plans for specific countries but said in a statement: "We are constantly examining the balance between print and digital at a time when we're seeing sharp growth in customer demand for digital. Over the past year, WSJ digital subscriptions have more than doubled in Asia and they have grown by 48 per cent in Europe."

The company is moving away from a continental print strategy in favour of a country by country approach to digital distribution that reflects particular consumption patterns, people briefed on the plans said. The move comes amid a broader industry shift away from print, where revenues have been hammered by sharp declines in advertising.

Print advertising sales fell more than 20 per cent in 2016 at most big newspaper groups and have not bounced back. But digital subscriptions are surging: the Wall Street Journal added 118,000 digital subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017 while The New York Times added 308,000 net digital-only news subscribers in the first three months of the year — the strongest growth in any quarter since the newspaper implemented its online paywall in 2011.

All newspapers are grappling with how to absorb the downturn in print advertising. The New York Times has proposed halving the number of copy editors it employs, a move that this week drew a stinging rebuke from copy editors in a letter to the paper's management — and a walkout that was supported by other editorial staff.

In the letter the copy editors said they had been compared with "dogs urinating on fire hydrants when we edited stories". They added that copy editors are "the immune system of this newspaper, the group that protects the institution from profoundly embarrassing errors, not to mention potentially actionable ones".

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