new york -- Media mogul Rupert Murdoch said Tuesday that he was leaning toward dropping the online subscription fee for the Wall Street Journal in a gamble to increase visitor traffic and website advertising revenue.
Murdoch made the comments at a media investment conference, a few months before his News Corp. is scheduled to complete its $5-billion purchase of Dow Jones & Co., owner of the Journal, wsj.com, Barron's and Dow Jones News Service.
A decision on dropping the fee, which generates an estimated $30 million annually, has not been made but is "on the front burner" of issues that News Corp. is considering as it finalizes the takeover of Dow Jones, Murdoch said at the conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs.
The Journal's website is by far the most successful media site to charge a subscription fee. About a million readers pay either $99 annually for an online-only subscription or $49 if they also subscribe to the newspaper.
Other media sites have had a hard time charging for all or part of their content. On Monday, nytimes.com, the online version of the New York Times, said it would make access to TimesSelect, which includes articles written by 23 news and opinion columnists and other features, free beginning today.
"Due to this anticipated growth in traffic, the TimesSelect subscription revenue model will be replaced by one that is based on advertising," the company said.
News Corp. is also betting that dropping the wsj.com subscription fee will be more than offset by an increase in ad revenue. Making the online Journal free could boost the site's worldwide audience to more than 30 million, and advertisers probably would pay more for the increased traffic and the chance to reach the site's affluent and well-educated audience, said Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp.
Murdoch also gave details about the use of Dow Jones stories on News Corp.'s new business cable network, the Fox Business Network, which is to debut in mid-October as a rival to CNBC. Dow Jones has a contract to provide its news reporting to CNBC.
But Murdoch said his companies would be able to tap Dow Jones' nonbusiness stories.
Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.