Why The Wall Street Journal is focusing personal finance on its new Buy Side business page

The Wall Street Journal is finally entering the commercial space after spending a year figuring out what the deal would look like for Dow Jones.

Launched last month, the WSJ’s Buy Side is a stand-alone site whose newsroom operates separately from the Journal but has the same focus on helping people make financial decisions — a mission shared by other Dow Jones properties, including MarketWatch and Barron’s, according to the company’s chief revenue officer Josh Stinchcomb.

The timing of Buy Side’s launch—likely to happen just before the recession—could be a unique challenge for most trade publishers, with audiences starting to pinch their pennies and brands rethinking their affiliate marketing budgets. But Leslie Yazel, head of content for Buy Side, believes these circumstances could benefit her team’s editorial strategy, thanks to the focus on personal finance in each article.

In the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, Stinchcomb and Yazel discuss how Buy Side balances consumer product recommendations with detailed calculations to help readers make purchasing decisions through the lens of value, as well as setting up affiliate partnerships with financial institutions.

Below are highlights of the conversation, which have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

WSJ access to commercial content

summer: We have consumer goods that we sell and we also have personal finance advice, which we can also monetise. But at the heart of this are money decisions, whether you’re buying a coffee machine, or deciding which credit card to choose, or whether to switch to a high-yield savings account. We feel that WSJ.com has great authority there [and] we want it to be useful for people.

But I also think we’re well positioned for the economic situation right now, because one of the main things we do is really strictly work for the people and do the math for the people. So when I say we strictly guard, [I mean] when you travel around the internet looking at all the best lists out there, sometimes you see “19 Best Credit Cards” or “12 Best Credit Cards”. We really narrow it down for people. When it comes to cash back cards, we’ve narrowed it down to four so people can really make their decision easier.

We create the criteria for that. We work with a panel of experts from the financial services industry and work tirelessly on spreadsheets to narrow this down, but we also do the math for the people. And what I mean by that is do we look, if you get one of these coffee subscriptions that are so popular now, we don’t just look at the tasting notes. We also look at what it actually costs per ounce so you can compare that to what you might be buying at your favorite market or grocery store.

The financial advantage of concluding affiliate deals with financial institutions

Stinchcomb: [Financial services partnerships tend to be] more diverse in outlook [pricing] models. And I read your article about it [cost-per-click] versus cost per acquisition — the different currencies in this space that are evolving — and on the financial services side, it’s a combination of cost per acquisition and cost per lead. There are different models. For certain types of products, this can be a percentage of the loan size, and for other models, it is a flat fee of — for illustrative purposes only — $50 for each new approved credit card.

On average, I think those rewards end up being higher per capita than most consumer products to the point that the lifetime value of that customer to a credit card issuer, for example, is higher. So you will often have a range or fixed fee for cost per lead or cost per new customer acquisition. And they can change over time because as you grow and deliver more volume and more success to a particular issuer, for example, you may be able to negotiate better per capita rates.

Higher rates, but higher barriers to entry

Stinchcomb: The financial services space is more complicated. There [are] compliance issues that do not exist in other categories. You have to prove yourself with many credit card issuers, for example, before you can become an accredited affiliate partner for them. And so it’s a process, you have to earn and prove your way into it and show that you have the proper compliance and put the proper resources behind being compliant. And that is a barrier to entry.

There are big competitors, but there are also competitors who are partners. Red Ventures is the operator of some pretty big sites in the space, like Bankrate, but they also have a really sophisticated publisher-friendly affiliate offering. We work closely with Red Ventures and are able to work with them to act as intermediaries for many financial institutions because they understand compliance and complexity very well, and can help accelerate our participation in that market. [It’s] somewhat similar to SkimLinks in the consumer space.


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