In an article on Salon's Machinist blog today, Farhad Manjoo gives tips for getting around the Wall Street Journal's paid-subscription barrier. WSJ.com allows some featured articles to be read for free, but puts much of its content behind what's known in the business as a "pay wall." The dirty secret Manjoo exposes: Many of the "hidden" articles can be easily accessed with a little technical know-how. What he doesn't stop to ask: Why has new Journal owner Rupert Murdoch made it so easy?
News Corp. made a deal with Digg.com at the end of last year. Users who click through to a WSJ.com story from Digg get to bypass the pay wall entirely. Similarly, when users click through from sites like Google News and Drudge Report, the pay wall is skipped.
Why do this? By making it easier for casual readers to find Journal articles, Murdoch gets more readers. If they like what they see, they can get all the WSJ content they want for a modest fee — and it's likely cheaper than all the direct-mail come-ons the Journal's circulation department is used to mailing. Murdoch gets to have his cake and eat it too. The Financial Times did something similar last year when it allowed readers to get 30 articles a month free before forcing them to cough up some dough.
The scheme falls apart, though, if people just read WSJ.com for free because they can. Courtesy of Manjoo, here's how:
- Search for the headline of the story you want in Google News. Frequently the story will already be there and clicking the search result will get you to the full story.
- If you're using Firefox, download the refspoof add-on. It allows you to fake out the WSJ into thinking you've clicked a link on Google News or Digg. Last year, Digg and the Wall Street Journal formed a partnership where any WSJ story that gets linked on Digg bypasses the pay-wall. By spoofing WSJ's servers, you can access any story for free.
What about Salon.com, the outfit that pays Manjoo's salary? To read the deeper parts of Salon, readers must either pay a monthly fee or watch a brief full-page advertisement — known as an "interstitial" — every day. Everyone needs to make money, but it can be annoying to readers. Since Manjoo passed on telling readers how to bypass it, we'll oblige.
The quick and easy way: *bookmark this page. Hitting that link will give you a "SItePass" for the day, leaving you to browse Salon all you wish. Perfect! However you do it, there's one unanswered question: Why are you reading Salon in the first place?
Immediately click "skip" in the top-right hand corner. You'll get a free day of Salon without dishing out anything except a few seconds of time. If even that annoys you, you can use the same techniques Manjoo recommends for the Journal's site: Search articles from Google News, or download a Firefox plugin.