It’s the Hatfields and the McCoys; it’s the Shiites vs. the Sunnis; the Protestants and the Catholics; it’s the friction between iPhone and ‘droid users; it’s Coke vs. Pepsi.
It’s the great American newspaper rivalry between The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
If you believe what’s written, rumored or gossiped among media types, Rupert Murdoch imagines a day when he successfully takes away so many New York Times readers that it’s forced to shut down, making his Wall Street Journal the newspaper of record.
Can this really happen?
Seems unlikely. But keep in mind that 20 years ago few would have foreseen a newspaper industry gasping for life or newly minted Stanford University graduates directing and influencing the way consumers satisfy their media appetite through an invention called Google.
The WSJ reports in its media kit that it sells nearly 1.6 million copies each day and that its readers are, on average, 49 years old; tend to be men with a household income of $272,000 and a net worth of $1.4 million; and they spend nearly an hour a day with the paper.
As for The Times, the only subscriber demographic data it makes accessible on its website is its profile of its digital readers, reporting that its site receives more than 25 million unique visitors daily and that they’re on average 46 years old; more likely women than men, with a median annual income of more than $70,000.
The Pew Research Center did some digging last year about the readers of both newspapers and discovered that when it comes to Times print readers, men dominate, 56 percent to 44 percent. At the WSJ, more than 70 percent of its readers are men, Pew says.
Times readers tend to be younger, with 32 percent in the 18-to-29-year-old category compared to The WSJ’s 24 percent in the same category.
Regarding partisanship, Pew reports that Journal readers identify themselves as politically independent compared to Times readers, 45 percent to 39 percent. Thirteen percent of Times readers are Republican compared to 20 percent of the Journal’s; 44 percent of Times readers are Democrats compared to 31 percent of The Journal’s.
In terms of household income, Pew reports 38 percent of the readers of both newspapers have an income greater than $175,000 and 56 percent of the readers of both newspapers are college graduates.
So what does this all mean?
“No one is giving up The New York Times for The Wall Street Journal,” Don Nizen, a former Times circulation executive, told me.
“Times readers in the New York metropolitan area are upscale, affluent, Jewish, liberal and identify with New York’s culture, its museums and its art,” Nizen said. “The Times does a helluva job covering those areas and always will.”
Nizen also confirms that Times and Wall Street Journal readers are not one in the same.
“Times readers are politically different and culturally different from Wall Street Journal ones,” he said. “The Times has a lot of women, and they like the paper’s soft news.”
The contrasts between both sets of readers, Nizen says, is only one ingredient that prevents Murdoch from seeing his rumored dream come to fruition.
If he were in News Corp.’s executive suite, he said, “the last thing I’d want to do” is attempt to execute a strategy to switch Times subscribers to the Journal, because “it’s very difficult to switch subscribers.”
In fact, it might be impossible.
Focus on strengths
Marketing professors say a consumer’s identity often influences purchases and, thus, we might conclude, based on the available information, that The Times is effeminate and The Journal is masculine.
We might further hypothesize that The Times is for women worried about others while The Journal is for emotionally distant men concerned about their finances and who are distrustful of the country’s leading political parties.
So if there were an all-out attempt by The Journal to switch Times subscribers, what would the paper’s marketing execs say to persuade them?
They’d likely need to focus on how The Journal’s financial coverage could assist them in preparing for their future as well as that of their children. In other words, The Journal would need to show how their coverage helps readers successfully navigate a variety of challenges, whether it’s financial, professional or even personal.
If The Times were to embark on a similar strategy, it would need to tell Journal readers about its coverage in sports and business while also showing that its analyses often detail how decisions are made, in both the private or public sector.
That said, could The Journal kill The Times? Or could the opposite occur?
Remember, back in 1993, no one anticipated such a limping newspaper industry or an all-powerful Silicon Valley.
At this stage of the game, anything’s possible.
Doug Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.