The Wall Street Journal demonstrated that business news operations don't have to give away their product online. The Journal and the British-based business paper Financial Times are alone among major daily newspapers in successfully charging a subscription fee for online access to their news stories, analysis, data and commentary.
"One of the things we've learned in our research is that (business news) consumers want to go to only a few trusted sources of information, and they want to be able to get a very broad array of information when they go there," Poleway says.
"I don't think there are a whole lot of players who will be able to deliver on that."
Bloomberg seems to have reached the same conclusion for its service, which charges big-time traders $1,500 a month to provide a mountain of news and data via special dedicated computers and other media.
The privately held firm appears to be booming as it expands in foreign markets and other fields, including the business of law and health. "Bloomberg as a company had its best May ever," says spokeswoman Judith Czelusniak.
Last year it hired 300 newspeople, bringing the total to 2,300. This year it opened bureaus in Nicosia, Cyprus; Hanoi; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Tehran, Iran; Bahrain; Riga, Latvia; and Kiev, Ukraine.
Where the sticking points are
With so many trends favoring business news, what accounts for continuing troubles at some of the major providers?
Several executives say it has a lot has to do with trends in how audiences and advertisers are changing — some, but not all, involving the Internet.
"Auto (advertising) has been a big category for the big business magazines, and auto is moving online in large measure — that's been a big blow," Poleway says.
But he adds, "Another thing that's happening below the surface: Ads that used to be the domain of business or personal finance magazines — like personal financial services ads — you can see in anything from women's service magazines to any kind of lifestyle magazines."
Other traditional business-news print outlets face similar challenges. Ad revenue at The Wall Street Journal fell 4.2% this year through May vs. the same period in 2006. The biggest hit came from technology ads, where the volume of pages sold dropped 24.4%.
But Murdoch is betting that the problem is with the print product — not with business news — and that he can reinvigorate Dow Jones and its brands with all the resources at his disposal more effectively than the newspaper company could do on its own.
That's most readily apparent at the planned Fox Business Network. The new network likely would be worth about $540 million without a connection to Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, Bear Stearns analyst Spencer Wang estimates.
The value could go much higher, though, if an affiliation with the Journal brand and reporting capabilities attracts additional viewers, cuts operating costs or gives the channel cachet it can use to raise ad prices or negotiate higher fees from cable operators.
"I'm not sure that Murdoch is looking at The Wall Street Journal newspaper as a big moneymaker as much as it is a legitimizer for him," Himler says. "He comes out of the tabloid world. … The big question (with Fox Business Network) is whether it's going to be business news or business views."