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Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. North America
November 30, 2023

Uncertain times have been good for Dow Jones, a rare 2023 publishing success story

Interview with Dow Jones CEO and Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour.

By Dominic Ponsford

This year has been a torrid one for most US and UK news publishers – but not for Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.

News Corp’s US financial news division has just reported the best quarter financially since Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal for $5bn in 2007.

Press Gazette asked Dow Jones chief executive and Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour what his company is doing right and what advice he has for other publishers.

But first a recap of those Q1 numbers (for the three months to 30 September 2023):

  • Wall Street Journal digital subscriptions up 10% to 3.5 million
  • Barron’s Group digital subscriptions up 22% to 1.1 million
  • Professional information revenue up 14%
  • Total consumer print and digital subscriptions up 8% to 5.3 million
  • Advertising revenue down 3%
  • Revenue up 4% to £537m
  • Earnings up 10% to $124m

How is Dow Jones continuing to grow subscriptions?

Speaking at Press Gazette’s Media Strategy Network event in New York earlier this month, we began by asking Latour how the company is managing to continue to grow subscriptions in a mature market that has seen some flattening off post-pandemic. You can listen to the whole interview in the latest edition of Press Gazette’s Future of Media Explained podcast.

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“The demand for high quality, reliable information is there and it’s intensifying,” Latour said. “Why is it intensifying? Because the world is becoming much more complex.

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“You look at just about any aspect of business or any aspect of policy or any aspect of what you discuss at the kitchen table. Those major issues are very real. They’re not just theoretical. They’re not just things that pass you by.

“That means as a business leader, as someone holding a job, any job, or running a family, you have to make very serious decisions that have real implications. And so the need to have news or information or data or analytics that you can really rely on is intensifying. I do not see that stopping.

“We’re on the cusp of an era that’s really forming, where geopolitical lines are shifting by the day, with uncertain outcomes. And so as that uncertainty compounds and the complexity compounds, there is going to be a greater need for reliable information. This is why we’re in the business and this is what we try to offer. This is what we invest in.”

He said from the invasion of Ukraine to the Israel-Hamas war, every major event has seen a spike in subscriptions across Dow Jones.

Circulation numbers have also been boosted by the introduction of a paywall on MarketWatch which, with bundling offers, has helped drive growth across other products.

Most news publishers have had a tough 2023. As one delegate at our US conference put it: “modestly down is the new up”. How is Dow Jones managing to buck the trend?

“It was the best quarter I think we had since News Corp acquired Dow Jones. And so we’re very thankful for where we are, but you obviously always want to do better.

“The arc over time is more interesting. We’ve doubled our profits since pre-Covid. And so the journey is just on the right trajectory. We’re now 80% recurring revenue, we’re at 80%. digital.”

While advertising is down overall year on year, Latour said Dow Jones The Trust – a studio that makes the advertising as well as providing the publishing platform – is growing sharply.

What are the wider prospects for news businesses in 2024?

Asked how he sees the broader prospects for the news industry over the next year, Latour said: “I think uncertainty will continue and it cuts two ways. I think if you’re very advertising reliant, then I think that uncertainty might cut against you depending on which sectors are important to you. If you are subscriptions reliant, and you’re focused on high quality, reliable information, then there is an opportunity.

“If you can convince during a volatile time – and 2024 will be a spectacular year, no matter how you slice it – if you can convince an audience that you’re there for them and can you do that in a way that is structural, that is not just leaning into the political flavour, for example, and so you can then not just have a bump and then followed by a slump, but you can build something structurally. And that’s really what we’ve tried to do for four or five years to build structurally and not be too opportunist.”

Like rival news agency Reuters, Dow Jones has long seen the opportunity in deploying forms of artificial intelligence, specifically around automated content based on predictable releases of financial data.

But Latour also accepts that generative AI presents a threat to the news industry.

“The threat, in my view, is to not recognise the moment we’re in. If you look back 15 years, there was a moment where the sense was information needs to be free, the internet needs to be free. Somehow, we went along with that, and lots of folks went along with that. And the consequences of not recognising the value that actually was there were devastating, devastating for the news landscape and for many, many publications.”

Why AI is a threat and an opportunity for news publishers

He noted that Dow Jones is in conversations with tech companies already and he said: “The emphasis is on the value that we create, even as the LLMs are trawling all of our information and absorbing what we’ve built up over 100 years.”

He added that AI will have “a profound impact on information gathering workflow and distribution workflow along with all the back office changes that you’ll also see”. And he said Dow Jones is already working on a new set of products built using generative AI technology and based on what readers are asking for.

Gen Z consumers (aged up to 26) don’t even visit news websites. Is there any hope that they will one day take out a Wall Street Journal subscription?

“We want other generations after Gen Z as well,” Latour said. “The thesis for us is anyone who’s in business should come across Dow Jones or Wall Street Journal products multiple times a day. That is top executives at C suite but it’s also rank and file and people who are starting their jobs. We are very active with student subscriptions, we will be more active there. You’ll find us operating in more formats, packaging and repackaging.

“I think it’s not right to assume that the behaviours of Gen Z won’t very quickly travel to their parents and to their grandparents, but also to analysts and business folks, because you’re a consumer, and you’re a professional, all at the same time. So we’re focused on that.

“We’re 80% digital and we’re deeply invested in new generations and new formats. Apple News has introduced us to a massive new audience. We are actually seeing growing conversion coming from that. So I refuse to assume that Gen Z does not want to take in reliable news.”

Asked what advice he has for other publishers, Latour said: “In this market which is crowded and where distribution is accelerating, be aware of what makes you unique. How do you distinguish yourself, and what is your identity vis-a-vis all the other players that are out there.

“We’re coming off of an era where you could really not tell from headlines which publication was generating some of these things and that is so damaging, and you also see it within publications.”

He continued: “If you follow the flow of attack, particularly with an eye on advertising, you can dilute your identity. And then it’s very, very hard to get back.

“I encourage everybody to look at the companies that have risen, and then have seen a slump, or worse. You see that maximising and taking on more types of content to get the larger audience to a point of dilution, where no one recognises your unique value, and then it’s done.

“And so that is the thing I would watch the closest, is anything you can do to define your value, to enhance your value and to enhance your identity.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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