Tag Archives: BostonGlobe.com

Boston Globe fun-with-numbers edition

Ken Doctor’s analysis of the “newsonomics” of The Boston Globe’s pending sale continues to yield rich insights. One part I find particularly interesting is his estimate that the Globe’s natural ceiling for digital subscriptions is probably in the vicinity of 105,000. It’s currently 28,000.

(As I’ve explained before, the auditors also give the Globe credit for seven-day print subscribers who access BostonGlobe.com at least once a week, which means the paper currently reports having 50,000 digital subscribers.)

The Globe charges about $15 a month for digital subscriptions, with or without home delivery of the Sunday print edition. Yes, there are a lot of discounts in there, but just as a quick math exercise, let’s pretend there aren’t. So:

105,000 x $15 x 12 months = $18.9 million per year

If you figure an average of $100,000 in pay and benefits per employee, that adds up to 189 people — about half of the paper’s 365 journalists.

I’m leaving out a lot of expenses (including, most significantly, non-newsroom employees), but I’m also leaving out other revenue sources — mainly seven-day print circulation, print and online advertising, and commercial printing of other newspapers, including the Boston Herald, currently issuing daily predictions of the Globe’s imminent demise.

It also seems to me that one underexploited opportunity is online advertising at BostonGlobe.com. Yes, it’s nice to give paying customers a clean, uncluttered reading experience. But surely there could be a few more ads without devolving into flashing banners, pop-up windows and stuff floating across the page. I like ads. “Ads are content,” as Howard Owens says. They contribute to a sense of community and vitality.

Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg recently told me that the Globe’s total number of unique monthly visitors is 7.5 million — 6 million at the free Boston.com site and 1.5 million at BostonGlobe.com. I would think you could sell a decent amount of advertising to an online audience of 1.5 million. Currently, though, when you read articles you can often find white space where an ad ought to be.

One caution is the Globe’s new policy of limiting social sharing on BostonGlobe.com and cutting the amount of Globe content on Boston.com. Editor Brian McGrory has said that the goal is to boost digital subscriptions. The danger is that the restrictions:

  • may fail to turn all but a tiny handful non-subscribers into paying customers;
  • may hurt Boston.com’s traffic by making the site less enticing; and
  • may (actually, will) reduce unpaid traffic to BostonGlobe.com, thus making it a less desirable platform for advertisers.

Fortunately, the restrictions can be tightened or eased depending on whether or not they are working as intended.

The Boston Globe’s paywall is raised a little higher

be02f758328311e2b55612313804a1b1_7This article appeared earlier at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The flexible paywall that The Boston Globe introduced for its subscription website about a year and a half ago has slowly gotten a little less flexible. Fewer Globe stories are available on the paper’s free Boston.com site, and restrictions have been placed on social sharing.

The reason, according to Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg, is that the paper’s executives are still trying to figure out how to get paid online journalism right in a world awash in free news.

“The core of our two-brand strategy,” she told me by email, “involves trying to find the optimal balance between a free, ad-supported model and a premium, consumer-supported model.”

The restrictions were brought home to me recently when I learned that the paper had started limiting social media sharing to only two free links a month — a serious limit on someone like me, who regularly shares links on my blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. As a subscriber, I can share as many links as I like, of course. But non-subscribers can only click on two before getting a message that they cannot pass go.

So let’s run down the changes, shall we?

First, those social-media links. Clegg says that when BostonGlobe.com went live in the fall of 2011, social sharing was limited to five links per month. If so, it wasn’t well publicized. I’ve gone back and looked at some of the coverage, including a piece I wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab and the Globe’s own FAQ, and can find no mention of a monthly cap.

In any case, Clegg says that in December 2012, that number was cut to two links a month from search and social media — “per device, and per browser.” In other words, eight a month if you want to juggle among Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer (but who wants to do that?), and more if you move back and forth among other screens. “Email sharing,” she adds, “is unlimited.”

Second, when BostonGlobe.com debuted, the editors selected five stories a day that would also run on the free Boston.com site. Most sports stories ran on Boston.com as well. Last April, the number of free news stories was cut from five to four, and some additional sports content was moved behind the paywall.

“This is part of an effort to continually experiment, test and analyze how our readers engage with us digitally,” Clegg says. “We have been trying to find the right balance between the free-sharing culture of the Internet and paid access to premium Globe content. We believe that we can only arrive at that balance through experimentation.”

How well is it working? The Globe’s digital subscription base has risen, but slowly. Currently, Clegg says, the Globe has about 50,000 paid digital subscribers — but that doesn’t mean 50,000 people paying directly for a digital subscription. It’s a figure that includes digital-only subscribers; Sunday-only print subscribers (I’m one of them), who automatically get seven-day digital access; and seven-day print subscribers who access BostonGlobe.com at least once a week.

That’s how digital subscriptions are counted by the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations), and it’s a pretty expansive definition. As I’ve written before, about half of those counted as Globe digital subscribers get the paper delivered to their doorstep all seven days.

So is the decision by Globe executives to tighten the paywall smart or dumb? It’s hard to say. From the beginning, the idea behind the paid BostonGlobe.com site was to find a way to get regular readers to pay without turning away occasional readers and without hurting the free, advertiser-supported (and just-redesigned) Boston.com site. (Here is how Globe publisher Christopher Mayer explained it to me shortly after plans to build the paywall were announced in the fall of 2010.) Today, Clegg says, Boston.com attracts about 6 million unique visitors a month. Another 1.5 million uniques a month visit BostonGlobe.com, mainly as a result of the site’s free-access features.

I know that since I learned about the two-links-per-month limit, I’ve been looking for the equivalent content in Boston.com’s news blogs or elsewhere. I tend to shy away from BostonHerald.com unless I’m writing specifically about the Herald, since much of its content moves into the paper’s paid archives after two weeks. But there are plenty of other sources of free local news, even if it’s not always of the same quality as the Globe’s.

I’m inclined to cut the Globe some slack as Mayer, editor Brian McGrory and company grope their way into the future. But the new rules have already nudged me away from Globe content, and I’m a paying customer. That can’t be a good thing.

BostonGlobe.com wins major design award

Except for the Pulitzers (which are being announced next week), I try to stay away writing about journalism awards. There are so many that this could become little more than an awards blog if I opened the door.

This, though, seems worth an exception: BostonGlobe.com has just been named the “World’s Best Designed website” by the Society for News Design. Here is some of what the judges had to say:

The re-launch of BostonGlobe.com decisively raised the bar for digital news design. The Globe’s intrepid embrace of responsive design rewrote the equation of our industry’s expectations and ambitions and defined state-of-the-art across the Web. Most importantly, the site embraces the increasingly chaotic ecosystem of devices without sacrificing thoughtfulness or splintering user experience.

“Responsive design” refers to the fact that the Globe’s website senses whether you are using a computer, a tablet, a smartphone or some other device and automatically adjusts its appearance accordingly. I wrote about that last fall for the Nieman Journalism Lab a few weeks before the site made its debut.

Coincidentally, last night my Reinventing the News students at Northeastern visited the Globe Lab, where they heard from several members of the Globe’s technology team, including Miranda Mulligan, design director for BostonGlobe.com and Boston.com.

BostonGlobe.com is at the heart of the Globe’s efforts to persuade readers to pay for online content. The paper is off to something of a slow start in that regard — about 16,000 digital-only subscribers at last count. But its technology is innovative and excellent. It’s nice to see that being recognized.

The Boston Globe’s faster horse

Henry Ford is often credited as saying, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” Maybe he said it, maybe he didn’t. But I cite it in order to let you know that, this week, the Boston Globe unveiled a faster horse — the ePaper, a digital version of the Globe that looks just like the print edition.

On my laptop, the ePaper looks pretty much like replica editions I’ve tried for a number of other papers, including the Boston Herald, the Providence Journal and the New Haven Register. As these things go, the Globe ePaper is well-implemented. Just click on a headline and the story comes up. As with some other replica editions I’ve seen, it will read the stories to you in a slow, robotic voice. Unless you are visually impaired, you won’t want to do much with that.

But it’s the iOS version that I found to be a bit of an eye-opener. You would never think a full-size newspaper could be adapted to the small iPhone screen, but the Globe has somehow managed to make it usable. It was even better on Mrs. Media Nation’s iPad. Also with the iOS version, the entire paper automatically downloads to your device, so you can take it with you and read it in places where you don’t have Internet connectivity.

Also smart: You can buy a single edition through the iTunes Store for 99 cents.

Personally, I don’t picture using the ePaper often — I’d rather read BostonGlobe.com. But as someone who has severed ties with the print edition except on Sundays, I’m sure there will be times when I find myself calling up the ePaper. For instance, I may want to see how a particular story was played, or whether the print headline differed from the online headline. Or there may be a can’t-miss political ad.

For the most part, though, I’d rather drive a car than ride a horse. Even a faster one.

BostonGlobe.com wins two major Web awards

A little more than two months after its launch, BostonGlobe.com has won two major awards from the trade journal Editor & Publisher: Best Daily Newspaper Website and Best Overall Website Design. The Globe’s Boston.com site also won an award, for Best Entertainment Website. All three prizes were in the category of newspaper sites with at least one million unique visitors a month.

The so-called EPPY Awards are a recognition of the Globe’s innovative approach in designing its new paid site — a reliance on “responsive design,” based on HTML5, that allowed programmers to put together one website that adjusts itself to fit a variety of devices, from computers to smartphones.

In using the site, I’ve found that I have to do more clicking and scrolling than I’d like. It’s fine for reading a few stories, but not necessarily the whole paper. I’ve even reverted to GlobeReader on occasion, despite its being somewhat long in the tooth. But BostonGlobe.com is startlingly fast, which makes the clicking easier to deal with, and the design and usability have been improved here and there since its debut.

The real story, of course, is how many readers have signed up for paid digital subscriptions. And that’s a story that, so far, has yet to be told.

BostonGlobe.com fires up the cash register

BostonGlobe.com is supposed to shut down any minute now. When it returns, at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, it will become a paid site, eventually costing $3.99 a week. The best deal: taking home delivery of the Sunday paper for $3.50 a week, which gives you access to all of the Globe’s digital content for no extra charge.

Since the debut of the website in September, I’ve heard people complain that it’s too cumbersome to use. My own experience is that it’s gotten better, and that folks at the Globe are responsive to suggestions. In particular, the “Today’s Paper” section has improved. But it works better as a breaking-news site.

Thus I still find myself making some use of GlobeReader, the Adobe Air-based platform that serves as a pretty good representation of that day’s Globe. It’s not perfect — content is sometimes missing, and photos seem like an afterthought. But for those of us who still like to flip through the paper, I find you can do so much more efficiently than you can with the website. (You can use GlobeReader with a laptop or desktop computer, but not with an iPad or a smartphone, since those don’t support Air.)

Globe publisher Chris Mayer told me in August that GlobeReader would continue to be offered for some time to come, but would not be improved and would eventually be phased out. So it’s not a permanent solution.

So let me suggest that the Globe work on something similar to New York Times Skimmer, a website that presents all of the Times’ major RSS feeds in a Reader-like format. I think offering that in addition to the standard website would give readers a couple of good options depending on how much time they had and what device they were using. And Skimmer works on the iPad.

BostonGlobe.com free trial extended

In the past week or so, I’ve been telling people I thought the Boston Globe ought to extend the free trial period for its subscription-only website, BostonGlobe.com, until a few bugs got worked out. So I’m not surprised to learn the Globe has done exactly that. The site will be free through mid-October.

Here’s the main thing I’m looking for: a rock-solid “Today’s Paper” section that includes everything in the print edition, including all editorial cartoons (currently only staff cartoonist Dan Wasserman’s work gets posted) and “Names” items (sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not).

I also want the “All Headlines” feature under “Today’s Paper” to be sticky rather than constantly reverting back to “Quick View.” I’d like to be able to click on photos for a larger version. Finally, I want to return to where I was when I click on the back button rather than to the top of the page. On that last point, I notice improvements, but it’s not totally consistent.

Have you tried BostonGlobe.com? What do you like or not like about it?