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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Wall Street Journal said on Sunday that its Web site now has 1 million subscribers, a milestone for a site that charges for access even as other sites are throwing themselves open for free.
It also comes as News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch, who is buying the Journal's parent company Dow Jones & Company Inc, contemplates scrapping the Journal's subscription model in favor of free access supported by advertising.
Combined circulation for the print and electronic editions of the Journal fell 1.5 percent to 2.01 million for the six months that ended September 30, compared with the same period a year ago. The Journal attributed the drop to pruning its paid circulation lists of copies that it sells in bulk and at discounted rates.
Print circulation was about 1.66 million, down 2.9 percent from 1.71 million in the same period last year.
Online subscriptions have been rising. Dow Jones in October said paid subscriptions to WSJ.com grew 25.5 percent in the third quarter to 989,000, partially because of an offer for new subscribers to get both the print and online editions.
Dow Jones cites the amount of subscribers to WSJ.com as proof that it is possible to charge for access to news when most news outlets have failed to pull it off.
The New York Times in September ended its TimesSelect service that charged for access to some of its content, while the Financial Times now lets people get access to 30 free stories a month.
Despite the success of WSJ.com at pulling in more paying subscribers, Murdoch has said that he is thinking about making the site free, which likely would attract more readers and advertising dollars.
Dow Jones officials have declined to say whether they will make the site free.
The Journal's statistics come as more than 700 U.S. newspapers prepare to release their latest circulations statistics on Monday through the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an industry group composed of publishers and advertisers.
Every six months, the bureau releases the average daily paid and Sunday circulation figures for the print editions of most U.S. newspapers.
In the past several periods, paid circulation has trickled as publishers cut back the number of discounted copies they count as "paid," and as more people drop their print editions in favor of free Web sites or other media.
The numbers that the audit bureau will release on Monday contain new ways of measuring readership that publishers hope will convince businesses that newspapers remain a good place to advertise even as print circulation numbers fall.
The figures will include online readership as well as print readership -- the number of people estimated to read the paper rather than just the number of paid copies sold.
It also will contain "net unduplicated" print and online audience, people who read the print and online editions without counting those people twice if they read both.