Tag Archives: paid content

This morning’s BostonGlobe.com report

The next few weeks should be interesting as the folks at the Boston Globe work out the bugs at BostonGlobe.com.

Starting last night, the site stopped working on my almost-four-year-old MacBook using Chrome and Safari. (Might be just my set-up, though I did reboot.) On the other hand, it still works fine with Firefox, for which I’ve recently been developing a new appreciation, as it seems to be the most stable of the three major Mac browsers. No problems on my iPhone or on Mrs. Media Nation’s iPad, either.

I’m glad to see Dan Wasserman’s editorial cartoon made it to the site today, and I hope syndicated cartoons will be included on days that Wasserman isn’t drawing. The comics are online today, too. Maybe they were yesterday, but I couldn’t find them.

Other observations: clean as the site is, the organizational scheme is a bit bewildering, with many different options. I feel as though I’m missing stuff. The “Today’s Paper” option doesn’t seem to be quite that. It would be nice to have a clearly delineated separate section of everything that’s in that day’s print edition.

Also, how about combining all the little “Names” tidbits into one column? Other “g” shorts could be combined, too. I don’t want to keep clicking to read 90-word items. It’s one of my main peeves about GlobeReader, too, and I’ll bet I’m not alone.

Subscriber-based BostonGlobe.com debuts

Readers turning to Boston.com this morning and clicking on “Today’s Globe” found something new — an invitation to register for the new BostonGlobe.com, a paid site that will be getting a free trial for the rest of September. After that, it will cost $3.99 a week, which makes it among the more ambitious attempts to persuade online news consumers to pay for content.

I was among a number of media observers who were given a sneak preview last month by Globe publisher Chris Mayer and editor Marty Baron. I’ve got a longer take on the new site up at the Nieman Journalism Lab, focusing mainly on the site’s use of HTML5, which enables the Globe to offer a standalone app for the iPad and iPhone and avoid paying Apple its 30 percent cut.

Also, Nieman’s Joshua Benton offers four observations and asks lots of questions. Jeff Sonderman has a rundown at Poynter. Staci D. Kramer covers the launch for paidContent. And there’s plenty of coverage at BostonGlobe.com itself, starting here.

Access to BostonGlobe.com is included with any type of print subscription, including Sundays-only. Since the Sunday-paper-plus-GlobeReader has been our solution of choice for a while now, this is nothing but a plus here in Media Nation.

A lackluster 2011 for the Globe’s finances

Looks like it’s been a pretty lackluster 2011 so far for the Boston Globe, according to the latest financial results from the New York Times Co. Revenues at the New England Media Group, which consists of the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Boston.com, were down 3.6 percent for the second quarter compared to 2010, and down 4.3 percent for the first six months.

That includes a 2.7 percent decline in advertising revenue for the quarter (3.8 percent for the first six months) and a 5.4 percent drop in circulation revenue for the quarter (6 percent for the first six months). Total revenue for the second quarter was reported at $102.5 million. The circulation decline suggests that the higher prices instituted for the print edition a couple of years ago have now worked their way through the system, and that revenues are sliding as the number of papers sold continues to shrink, as is the case at most daily newspapers.

Business has stabilized at the Globe — certainly compared to 2009, when the Times Co. was threatening to close the company if it couldn’t extract painful union concessions in the face of huge operating losses. But neither the Globe nor the newspaper business in general is close to being out of the woods.

Next stop is the Globe’s experiment in charging for online distribution, scheduled to be unveiled later this year. The Times itself has apparently had some success with its own pay model. The delicate state of the Globe’s finances shows how important it is that its own experiment doesn’t blow up in the lab.

Also: News business analyst Alan Mutter recently analyzed the unexpectedly steep drop in newspaper advertising revenue.

Globe, Herald circulation continues to slide

The Boston Globe is the 25th-largest Monday-through-Friday paper and the 20th-largest Sunday paper, according to the latest figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Both the Globe and the Boston Herald continue to slide. And the Wall Street Journal enjoys the largest Monday-through-Friday circulation nationally, while the New York Times is tops on Sunday.

Locally, the most interesting news is that the Globe’s circulation has stabilized following a huge plunge between 2009 and 2010, which followed significant price increases. Those increases have reportedly improved the paper’s bottom line, but have left the Globe with a much smaller subscriber base.

The Globe’s paid Sunday circulation for the six-month period ending on March 31, 2011, was 356,652, down 22,297, or 5.9 percent, over the six-month period ending on March 31, 2010. The Monday-through-Friday picture was similar: 219,214 in the most recent reporting period, down 13,218, or 5.7 percent.

By contrast, the Globe’s circulation figures for the six months ending on March 31, 2009, were 466,661 on Sunday and 302,638 Monday through Friday, meaning that Sunday circulation last year was down 18.8 percent over the previous year, and Monday-through-Friday circulation was down 23.2 percent.

Over at One Herald Square, circulation during the past year dropped at roughly the same rate as the Globe’s. On Sunday, circulation is 87,296, a decline of 4.1 percent. The Monday-through-Friday editions averaged 123,811, down 6.6 percent. Two years ago, paid circulation at the Herald stood at 95,392 on Sunday and 150,688 Monday through Friday.

Both the Globe’s and the Herald’s circulation figures include exceedingly modest numbers for their paid electronic editions, which were folded into their total paid circulation.

Finally, the Globe reported 6.8 million “total uniques” for its website, Boston.com, whereas the Herald did not report. According to Compete.com, which counts unique visitors per month differently, Boston.com over time has attracted an audience about two to three times larger than that of BostonHerald.com.

The next big story will be what happens when the Globe begins charging for online access to most Globe content later this year. Will it slow or even reverse the decline of the print edition? Will paid electronic editions such as GlobeReader and forthcoming apps for the iPad and iPhone get a boost? How badly will the paywall hurt Web traffic? Stay tuned.

A rocky launch for the Times’ paywall

The New York Times has had months to test its online paid-content system. And, as of this morning, it’s a mess.

Last night I tried logging on to the Times’ iPhone app, which, as a subscriber to the Sunday print edition, I am supposed to get for no additional charge. I entered my username and password and got a message telling me to look for a confirmation email. I did. It wasn’t there — not in my inbox and not in my spam folder. I did it again. And again this morning. No dice.

I tweeted, and Greg Reibman, publisher of GateHouse Media’s Metro Boston papers, tweeted back: “Exact same thing happened to me. @nytimes promised email confirmation that never came.”

I also got this, from @NYTdigitalsubs: “Sorry to hear you’re experiencing login issues w/ iPhone. We’re investigating. Stay tuned. Thanks for patience.”

Perfection may be unattainable, but given the resistance to paying for Internet content, the Times needed as smooth a launch as possible. So far, not so good.

On the bright side, I did have a chance to play with the Times’ new iPhone app for a few days before the paywall went up, and it is spectacular. And since the “Top News” section is free to everyone, I was able to read that this morning.

Tuesday afternoon update: @NYTdigitalsubs came up with a workaround — log in as a digital subscriber rather than as a print subscriber. That did the trick. A more complete solution is supposed to be available later today.

New York Times: Pay us less and we’ll give you more

As best as I can figure out, it will soon be cheaper to get access to all of the New York Times’ digital products and the Sunday print edition too than it will to go paperless. Let’s run down the math.

Every three months, Media Nation Central pays $97.50 for home delivery of the Sunday Times. Under the new pay scheme announced last week, that entitles us to free access to most of the Times’ electronic delivery options: NYTimes.com, Times Reader, and apps for smartphones and tablets. (Kindle and Nook editions aren’t included in any of the just-announced options.)

On the other hand, if we don’t get the print edition at all, it will cost us $35 every four weeks for the same electronic package. That’s $113.75 every three months, or $16.25 more than getting the identical range of products plus the Sunday paper. That’s a markup of nearly 17 percent.

Now, Times executives have every incentive in the world to push the Sunday paper: it’s where most of the advertising revenue comes from. I’ve been told that the Boston Globe makes as much as two-thirds of its money from the Sunday paper. It’s probably about the same at the Times.

Still, it seems odd that the Times has deliberately set up a system under which you get more if you pay less — although, granted, I’m not factoring in the cost of tips, which should bring the price of paper-plus-electronic to somewhat more than electronic-only.

Thoughts on the N.Y. Times’ modified limited paywall

Earlier today, Lois Beckett of the Nieman Journalism Lab asked me and a number of other media observers to write brief commentaries on the New York Times’ modified limited paywall, which was announced this morning. She got some interesting responses, ranging from Steve Buttry (“ridiculous”) to Amy Webb (“a wise move”). Here’s what I wrote:

The New York Times is taking a smart and nuanced approach. Times executives have struck an interesting balance between charging heavy users for access while remaining part of the free online conversation that’s become such an important part of the media ecosystem. I have no idea whether a limit of 20 free articles a month is too little, too much or just right, but I assume they’ll adjust in response to what the market tells them.

I was also pleased to see that print subscribers, including Sunday-only customers (like our family), will have free access to most of the Times’ online platforms. The Sunday paper remains a vital source of revenue for the Times, and it makes sense for Arthur Sulzberger, Janet Robinson and company to do whatever they can to preserve that money machine.

That said, the Times will no longer be able to make excuses for glitchy software and access problems. I’m reasonably happy with the Times iPhone app, but my wife reads the Times on her iPad, and it’s buggy. You can get away with that when it’s free. But once you put a price tag on your product, you’ve got to guarantee that it works — and be responsive to consumer complaints when it doesn’t. That’s especially true given that the Times is charging more for electronic access than many had predicted.

The news business may be watching this very closely to see what lessons can be drawn, but I’m not sure that there will be many, because the Times is such a unique product. For many people, the Times may be the one “newspaper” for which they’re willing to pay to read online. Rather than paving the way for other newspapers, the Times’ paywall may instead lead to a further stratification of the news business, as executives at other papers find themselves unable to emulate the Times’ success in persuading customers to pay for electronic access.

The announcement was pretty much along the lines of what the Times said was coming months ago, though the fees for non-print subscribers ($15 to $35 every four weeks depending on your platforms) are higher than some had expected. There are also all kinds of exceptions regarding Twitter and Facebook access, top news on smartphones and the like.

The plan is very different from one that will be unveiled later this year by a sister Times Co. property, the Boston Globe, which announced last fall that it would divide its Web offerings into a free Boston.com (filled mostly with content that doesn’t appear in the Globe) and a paid BostonGlobe.com.

Last October, I interviewed Globe publisher Chris Mayer about his paywall plans.

Reflecting on the latest circulation figures

In Japan, advertising accounts for just 35 percent of newspaper revenue. In Britain, it’s 50 percent. And in the United States, ads have traditionally amounted to a whopping 87 percent of newspaper income. That’s why it can truly be said that, in the U.S., newspapers have always given away the news, charging only for paper and delivery.

These days we pay for computers and broadband access while getting the news for free — same as it ever was. That is among the most important explanations for why news organizations are going to have a difficult time persuading more than a handful of readers to pay for online access. I wish them well. But the challenge is enormous.

One thing some readers will continue to pay for is the convenience of print. (Spare me your nostalgia for the romance of print. Print persists for one reason: it’s still more ergonomically friendly than any electronic version. Someday that will change.)

After yesterday’s newspaper circulation figures were released, showing a continued but slowing decline in print sales industry-wide, Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer issued a memo — a copy of which was obtained by Media Nation — attributing the Globe’s continued slide to last year’s decision to raise the price to as much as the market would bear. (Here is the Boston Herald’s take.)

The idea is that there’s a sweet spot. Up to a point, you can raise prices and make more money, even if the total number of print readers declines. Somewhere, though, there’s a top to the curve, and the challenge is to find the top and not raise prices so much that revenues start to fall. The result, unfortunately, is that you end up with a niche product for an elite readership. But it’s either that or die.

And here’s a good piece of news. There’s also a sizable subset of readers who will pay for electronic editions like Times Reader and GlobeReader, which are cheaper than print but more convenient than newspaper websites that keep you chained to your desk. Given that iPad editions have barely kicked into gear, that’s a promising sign.

The full text of Mayer’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today the Audit Bureau of Circulations issued their Fas-Fax report for the six months ending September 30th. The Globe has shown year-over-year declines in line with our expectations, as a result of our circulation and pricing strategy instituted last summer.

The good news is the rate of circulation decline has slowed as we cycle through the impact of the price increases. One indicator is the comparison between September’s report and March’s report. Viewed this way, the declines are 2.8% for Sunday and 4.2% for daily. These are encouraging trends for our business and in line with others in our industry.

The past few months has also seen continued excellence in our reporting and positive contributions to the community. Our Spotlight Team investigation of patronage in the state’s probation department; our sensitive series of stories on bullying; the amazing coverage of the Amy Bishop case; coverage of the earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and its impact in Boston; and our current coverage of the political races are just a few examples of the important journalism we’re delivering.

The Globe’s circulation, now at 368,000 on Sunday and 223,000 daily, still makes us the largest newspaper in New England by a wide margin. The year-over-year decreases of about 15.7% on Sunday and 12.0% daily were expected and budgeted.  To offer some context, we raised prices last summer in most areas by 30% to 50% to grow circulation revenue and stabilize the business.

Of course, circulation numbers are not the end of the story. Print and online media work in concert with one another to build audience. It should be noted then that in terms of readership, during an average week, the Sunday Globe, the daily Globe and Boston.com together will reach 51% of all adults in the metro Boston area.  It will also be reported in Monday’s Fas-Fax that Boston.com’s local audience grew by 2.9 %.

The recently announced two-brand digital strategy is now officially under way and we are developing launch plans for our new subscription-based Web site BostonGlobe.com, and the next generation Boston.com. And, watch forperiodic launches of digital products in the upcoming months.

So, as we look ahead we will continue to execute on our strategy, building on the strong foundation of quality journalism, original content, broad audience reach, higher reader engagement, advertising effectiveness, and strong connection with the community that is reflected by, and results in, our more than 50% of the market.

We can all share a sense of optimism and purpose as we focus on our future success.

— Chris

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Publisher Chris Mayer on the Globe’s new pay model

Christopher Mayer

(Note: If the top of Media Nation looks mangled, please hit reload.)

I’m skeptical, but I’m impressed. Yesterday’s announcement that the Boston Globe will move most of its content to a subscription-based website sometime in the second half of 2011 shows that Globe executives know where their strengths are and that they’re prepared to think innovatively to protect those strengths.

The Globe’s dilemma is that it has an enormously successful free website, Boston.com, that is quite different from the paper itself. Start charging for access to Boston.com, and many of those 5 million unique visitors a month would vanish.

The solution: keep Boston.com free, but split off the Globe’s content into a separate, paid site called BostonGlobe.com, currently a free subsite. The decision raises lots of questions. Perhaps the biggest is how much free Globe content will be posted on Boston.com, and whether Boston.com will remain as popular once it has to stand on its own.

Still, it’s a far more interesting idea than the metered model embraced by the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Co., which rolled it out at the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester recently and which will give it a go at the flagship paper sometime next year. Under the metered model, readers can access so many articles for free each month, after which they have to pay. It might work for the T&G and the Times, but it would have been deadly for Boston.com.

Yesterday I conducted an e-mail interview with Globe publisher Christopher Mayer, which he graciously agreed to do because I still can’t take notes. (Although it’s getting better. I’ve got a pillow propped up and am typing two-handed now for the first time since my accident.) Our unedited conversation follows. I’ve got a few closing thoughts after the jump.

Q: The metered model seemed to be the way the New York Times Co. was going. Why did you choose something different?

A: We’ve said all along that each organization would need to come up with a custom-made approach that takes into account unique market factors. We felt this was the best course for us, given the fact that we have two strong brands and essentially two different types of users of our Boston.com site. We have the opportunity to build a free site and a subscription-based site, and based upon extensive research, that emerged as the best option for us.

Q: The advantage of the metered model is that you’re not entirely cut off from the great conversation that’s taking place on blogs and in social media. Are you concerned about breaking a big story and not having as much impact as you should because people can’t link to you? Please address what Clay Shirky said about the importance of online sharing with respect to the Globe’s reporting on the pedophile-priest story.

A: We don’t intend to be cut off from the conversation. We haven’t announced, or even worked out, all the details of what will be on which site. But we can envision that some full-text Globe stories will be available on the free site. I suspect we would have put many of the initial priest sex-abuse stories on the free site because that Spotlight Team investigation was viewed as clear public service reporting. In the future, we’ll make those judgments as appropriate. Continue reading

For the Globe, a hybrid paid-content model

As you may have heard, the Boston Globe today finally made its long-anticipated announcement on placing some of its online content behind a paywall. I think publisher Chris Mayer’s decision to offer a free Boston.com site and a paid BostonGlobe.com is interesting. I’ve got some questions. I’ve got concerns.

I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Meanwhile, Ralph Ranalli at Beatthepress.org and Boston Phoenix editor Carly Carioli have some worthwhile thoughts.