TheStreet.com announced Monday that, beginning in the second quarter, it will drop its $9.95-per-month subscription fee for breaking stock market news and analysis to better compete with free financial sites such as CBS MarketWatch.com and CNBC.com.
But the financial news site isn't quite ready to join the ranks of fee-turned-free online publications, such as Microsoft's Slate.com. Instead, the media company will maintain the site at TheStreet.com as the hub for a network of Web sites and it will continue to charge fees for some of its most popular content.
In fact, it will charge readers even more for access to commentary from Wall Street columnists such as Adam Lashinsky, Herb Greenberg and James Cramer. That premium content will be moved to a new site, called RealMoney.com, and fans of the commentary will be asked to pay double what they are paying today. The plan includes the addition of more columnists and chats hosted by the writers.
Subscriptions will run $200 per year or $20 per month.
Additionally, TheStreet.com will launch three other sites, aimed at different markets, for varying prices. For free, TheStreetTalk.com will offer a community site with stock message boards and chats with writers from TheStreet.com. On TheStreetPros.com, investment professionals can log onto a password-protected site to find information from TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com edited, condensed and repackaged so it can easily be scanned. The price for access has not yet been determined, but the company announced it will be priced competitively for the professional marketplace. And at ipoPros.com, a site bought by TheStreet.com in December, investors can see commentary, analysis and data on the initial public offering market. Individuals pay $25 per month for IPO information, and institutions pay $400 per month for expanded IPO coverage.
"Having a network of sites will help us get to the next level," TheStreet.com CEO Thomas Clarke said during a conference call with analysts on Monday. "It will allow us to capitalize on the extensive, high-quality free content on our site and give us the horsepower to compete."
The firm plans to spend $5 million investing in technology infrastructure to create the network of sites. At this point, it has not specified any additional amount it plans to spend on marketing and building the new brands. Instead, it plans to leverage its established brand, TheStreet.com, and drive traffic to the other four sites from that one.
With the doubling of the fees for its most popular editorial content, officials at TheStreet realize the number of paid subscribers could drop from its current level of 100,000. However, they expect the number of unique visitors to the site will double or triple, placing more weight on its advertising revenue stream, and more than compensating for the loss of subscribers. In the third quarter of this year, TheStreet.com averaged 1.3 million unique visitors per month. It expects to share more guidance and expectations during its fourth-quarter conference call with analysts on February 10.
TheStreet.com went public last May. After reaching a high of $71.25 immediately following its IPO, the company's stock price has gradually retreated. Monday's news of the restructuring drove its price up just more than 3 percent, to $19.13.
"TheStreet has had a lot of free content," explains Gordon Hodge, an equity analyst for Thomas Weisel Partners, which co-managed TheStreet's IPO. "I think the market has always misperceived it as a subscription-based service. What they are doing is remarketing TheStreet as a free service, with premium content. I think it's pretty smart repositioning."
Fans of the sometimes-brash commentary from James Cramer and other columnists will likely let TheStreet know just how smart they think this repositioning is.
The columns section is the site's most popular content, and the company is attempting to unlock the value in it by separating it from the news and doubling its price.
It is also an attempt by the company to drive up traffic by getting the word out that TheStreet.com is free, when most of the "newly free" content had been free all along. According to Clarke, 60 percent of the site's content is free to the public today. With all this reshuffling, it is unclear when and where any new information might be added to the sites.
TheStreet.com is an editorial partner of The Industry Standard.