The latest controversy surrounding former TechCrunch editor MG Siegler erupted when the Wall Street Journal wrote about Apple' acquisitions startup Chomp without citing MG Siegler's source article. MG, justifiably enraged, published a long tirade on parislemon, his personal blog. What's most interesting about his post is a choice quote from the middle: "I honestly do not care if WSJ links to TechCrunch at all. I’ve been doing this a long time — one thing I know for certain: a link from WSJ means dick. Basically no one clicks through."
The Wall Street Journal is one of the most influential newspapers in the United States, and by extension the world. They have a large subscriber base and excellent writers that break news, including technology news, on a regular basis. The Wall Street Journal is also a newspaper that seems to have transitioned very well to the Web. Their designs are for the most part well-designed, lack annoying paywalls, and generally exude the appearance of doing fairly well.
MG Siegler's comment casts serious doubt on that well-cultivated appearance. If a link from the Wall Street Journal's website is as useless as Siegler says it is, and there's little reason to think he's lying, it can only mean one thing- the Wall Street Journal is going to have to fight hard, much harder than they are, to succeed as their print edition continues to fade away. An audience that does not click through is an audience largely unengaged with the basic technology of the Internet.
They don't click links, which probably means they do not click advertisements. They don't click links, which probably means they do not click videos. They don't click links, which means they do not respond to polls or comment. They don't click, period. In short, visitors to the Wall Street Journal's website treat the website as a newspaper- a static repository for text and photos. An audience that views your website as a bits and bytes version of a physical world product is an audience that can be stolen away.
A Wall Street Journal reader who discovers the rich variety of websites that offer more than a newspaper may simply stop reading the Journal online- not because the Journal doesn't offer multimedia content but because they never thought to associate the name of a newspaper with fresh new news mediums. The Wall Street Journal was able to turn it's legacy brand into a large audience online, but it's a newspaper audience.
Newspaper readers are consumers who just look, never touch. In other words, the worst possible audience for a website.
It's an audience advertisers are most reluctant to market to; most online advertising revenue is directly tied to how many customers will engage directly with an ad. It's an audience that will be less receptive to novel ways of generating revenue; how many people who never click links are going to buy a Wall Street Journal branded e-book or pay for branded video? It's an audience that could, sadly, whittle away until it destroys one of the most storied brands in American media.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.