In latest circulation numbers, the difference is digital

Print circulation at the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald continues to slide, according to the latest data from the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations).

But the Globe’s success in selling digital subscriptions has led to a healthy 8.9 percent increase in its Monday-through-Friday paid circulation and a 4.6 percent increase on Sundays. The Herald’s paid circulation, by contrast, is down 11.6 percent on weekdays and 10.8 percent on Sundays.

The numbers are based on a comparison between the six-month periods ending on March 30, 2013, and March 30, 2012. Here are the topline figures:

  • Boston Globe: Weekdays, 245,572, up from 225,482. Sundays, 382,452, up from 365,512.
  • Boston Herald: Weekdays, 95,929, down from 108,548. Sundays, 73,043, down from 81,925.

The underlying totals tell an interesting story. The Globe’s weekday print circulation dropped from 195,947 to 172,048 (down 12.2 percent), and its Sunday print edition fell from 343,194 to 309,771 (down 9.7 percent). But the number of readers who use the Globe’s paid website, BostonGlobe.com, rose from 19,313 to 60,134 on weekdays and from 19,599 to 60,301 on Sundays.

(Note: Despite the seeming precision of these figures, there may be some minor discrepancies. The 2012 totals in the just-released “Newspaper Snapshot” do not perfectly match the audit reports posted elsewhere on the AAM site.)

As I’ve explained before, the actual number of digital subscribers is about half that reported by the AAM, since its totals include print subscribers who also make regular use of BostonGlobe.com, which home-delivery customers can access for free.

The Globe totals also include readers who access the ePaper — that is, the digital replica edition, which looks exactly like the print edition. A year ago, the ePaper was just barely getting off the ground. Now it accounts for 13,390 paid weekday subscriptions and another 12,380 on Sundays.

The challenge for the Herald is that, as readers lose the print habit, the paper is not offering a compelling paid digital alternative. The Herald has free smartphone and tablet apps, and, like the Globe, it posts a paid replica edition (the Electronic Edition), which is how we do most of our Herald-reading at Media Nation.

But replica editions just aren’t that compelling. Currently the Herald’s e-edition attracts 9,810 paying customers on weekdays and 1,216 on Sundays.

BostonHerald.com remains free. In the past, publisher Pat Purcell has dropped hints that that could change. Certainly it would surprise no one if that change came sooner rather than later.

Boosting digital subscriptions. The Globe’s free website, Boston.com, began running brief summaries of Globe stories today in an attempt to boost digital subscriptions.

The move had been expected for some time, as editor Brian McGrory talked about it in an interview with Andrew Beaujon of Poynter.org in February. But the timing could prove to be interesting, since it follows the Globe’s widely praised coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The paper lowered the paywall during the worst of it, which, as Seth Fiegerman reported for Mashable, resulted in an enormous increase in Web traffic. It bears watching to see how many of those readers can now be converted into paying customers.

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4 thoughts on “In latest circulation numbers, the difference is digital

  1. Aaron Dun

    Good article… I didn’t much appreciate what felt like a sudden disappearance of content today on boston.com for a couple of reasons.

    First the announcement was disingenuous.. they have had the summaries available for quite some time, with a handy icon to let you know BEFORE you clicked that this was a Globe article you weren’t going to get full access to.

    Second of all, they made it sound like they just started adding globe content, when in fact, MOST of the journalistic content on the site is Globe articles so most of it moved behind the paywall. This was compounded further by the fact that if you read an article on a mobile device it just appears like a short article, the “click to read the full article” link does not appear (at least it didn’t today for me on my iPhone 5). I might have preferred if they just pulled the Globe content off altogether.

    Lastly, this is not a New York Times free site vs paid print debate. Or even a WSJ.com debate from a few years back. Long ago, the Globe created Boston.com as a stand-alone brand that has flourished well over the years to become a very valuable property, read by folks all over the world who want to keep up on Boston news. By later developing the Bostonglobe.com website as a content property they appeared to attempt to strike a difficult balancing act between three main properties. But the problem is the brands are completely disassociated at this point. How much do visitors realize this is a Boston Globe site? It’s *barely* branded that way today.

    If they pull back the Globe content from Boston.com the value of that platform to advertisers decreases–potentially exponentially–which could create a nasty death spiral. If they beef up the content quality using non-globe sources, now they are trying to support separate editorial teams and are losing a massive platform to showcase their Globe content and drive paid subscribers.

    I don’t propose to know the inner workings of the financials, but they have a very successful property (on its face). Lets hope they don’t screw up the successful one while they figure out what to do about their other, dying property.

    @ajdun

  2. Martin Langeveld

    Dan, I don’t buy it. As you mention, the supposed growth includes a lot of readers who are duplicate print/online readers.
    The AAM reports include a metric analysts are ignoring, which is “Total Customer Accounts”. This eliminates the duplicates (but doesn’t include single copy print buyers).
    On that basis, the Globe had 268,750 Sunday accounts, 168,136 Daily accounts this last period. In the previous, Sept. 2012 period, it was 271,758 Sunday, 180,560 Daily. That’s a sizable loss in total accounts in six months, especially daily. This reporting component was not yet required back in March 2012. I doubt if the difference is being made up by single copy, except for the last few weeks.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Martin: I agree, and I’ve tried to point out that there’s more than a little gamesmanship in the way AAM counts digital subscriptions. My point is that the Globe, through paid digital, is doing a better job than the Herald of preserving its paid readership base, even though the news is not as rosy as AAM makes it seem. But you can’t blame folks at the Globe for taking what AAM gives them, either.

      Count me as an analyst who’s been ignoring “Total Customer Accounts.” I’ll be looking at that the next time, especially since we’ll have a year-to-year comparison after Sept. 30.

  3. Dave Colantuono

    Is there any evidence that paywalls are decreasing overall viewership of news sites and therefore causing a drop in digital revenue from advertising and therefore offsetting any increase in subscription revenue?

    Both Lee Enterprises and McClatchey just reported surprisingly low digital rev growth

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