By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Answering the obvious with the obvious

The Boston Globe today reports on the latest drop in newspaper circulation, including particularly steep declines at the Globe and the Boston Herald. Why are things worse here? Robert Gavin’s article makes the case that Net-savvy Massachusetts is making the transition to the Internet even faster than the rest of the country.

Gavin could have cited numbers from the Globe’s own Web site, According to figures from last January — already out of date — attracts some 4 million unique users every month, and has a million registered users. The unique-user figure is the same as the one I referenced in this post last October, but the number of registered users is up considerably. Surely there are a considerably number of people among those 1 million registered users who’ve canceled home delivery in the past year or two.

The story is similar at the Herald, where Jesse Noyes ends his report with this: “ averaged over 2 million unique visitors a month, up 33 percent year-over-year, according to the most recently reported figures.”

Again, last year I noted that the Herald claimed 3 million a month for its online network, which includes, the massive Town Online site and a few advertising properties. Now Herald Interactive says that number has risen to 4 million, an increase of 33 percent — precisely on track with the 33 percent increase that the Herald claims just for its own Web site.

The Herald Web site has become considerably more attractive in the past year, as publisher Pat Purcell removed the paid-subscription barrier for columnists. Being able to get your fix of Peter Gelzinis, Margery Eagan and Howie Carr for free is a large disincentive to buying the paper. But Purcell, to his credit, knows that he has to figure out a new business model if the Herald is to survive.

By the way, the circulation numbers are pretty stomach-churning.

The Globe is down 7 percent on weekdays, from 414,000 to 386,000, and 10 percent on Sundays, from 652,000 to 587,000. It wasn’t too many years ago that the Globe guaranteed advertisers at least 500,000 on weekdays and at least 800,000 on Sundays.

The Herald is down 12 percent on weekdays, from 230,000 to 203,000, and 13 percent on Sundays, from 132,000 to 115,000.

Not good, especially given industry estimates that it takes somewhere between 10 and 100 online readers to make up for the revenue generated by one print reader. (I can’t remember where I picked that up — perhaps a Media Nation reader can enlighten us.)

The point, though, is that dropping print numbers are just part of a much larger picture.

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  1. Brian Maloney

    The Herald should drop the Sunday newsstand price to $1.

  2. Anonymous

    Old business model, or new business model, you have to wonder how long the Herald survives with those numbers. I also agree with bosphotog.

  3. Philocrites

    Could subscriber competition between the Globe and the Times be a contributing factor? My wife and I get the Times on Saturday and Sunday, which in Cambridge gives us the Magazine and Book Review a day early along with a Times Select subscription — and every few months the Times tries to sell us on a 7-day subscription by giving it away for the weekend price. We get the Times 7 days a week for a few months, then go back to weekends only. I read several times a day and get the Boston Globe daily headlines email, so we also decided to save a few bucks each week and get the paper on weekends only. We’re still getting a paper 7 days a week, and I’m still following local news online, but the NYT Corporation is giving us a great disincentive to pay for the Globe.

  4. John Lee

    The “larger picture” is that conservative newspapers have been steadily growing while liberal ones have been hemorrhaging. IRIS Blog has the proof: example, the Post is now the #1 tabloid in New York after this year’s 5% jump and 19% growth over the past four years.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    John: Thank you for the link. I took a look. I don’t find it to be a very credible analysis. Here’s why:1. The author points to the New York Post as a conservative paper that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Do you really think the Post’s conservatism is what’s driving circulation? What about its gossip columns and excellent sports and business coverage? Plus, the Post’s Web site is pretty lousy, so you’ve got to pick up the paper.2. The Wall Street Journal is a conservative paper? Since when? Last year, a credible study found that the WSJ’s news coverage was the most liberal of any major paper, more liberal than that of the New York Times. Of course, the WSJ’s editorial pages are extremely conservative, but that’s another matter. Another factor: the WSJ online is subscription-only, which is surely a boon for the print edition. (Yet nearly all of the editorial-page content is free at, dealing a further blow to the notion that people are buying the WSJ for its conservatism.)3. Circulation analyses of USA Today are always pretty dubious. Do you know *anyone* who has ever actually bought a copy? I’d say a pretty good chunk of its “paid circulation” is picked up by hotel managers, wouldn’t you?

  6. Anonymous

    DK,Thanks for the info on WSJ. I had missed that one. Perhaps we WSJ readers are not the knuckle-dragging troglodytes some progressives presume whenever the “WSJ” name comes up? Could be that an issue worth studying is how the Journal apparently manages to maintain the “Chinese Wall” between editorial and news while some others (ahem) let their world view color choices on what to cover, how and why.

  7. Anonymous

    pls don’t be so naive — the NY post is up because it sells the paper for 25 cents a copy and is willing to lose a $4 million a month to gain marginal circ along costly distribution routes in NY and in big cities as a “national ‘bloid.” rupert writes off the loss but no other mogul on earth could surport a vanity product at minus $50M per year.

  8. Anonymous

    …and what about the Herald? Those who think the Globe is being singularly punished for inflicting its liberal views on Massachusetts readers should look soberly at those Herald figures. They are close to where they were in the 80’s when the Herald almost shut down, before Rupert Murdoch saved the day with Wingo and an infusion of content. In fact, the Herald looks a lot like it did in the Hearst 80’s days: skinny in size and staff. Only the silly screaming headlines get bigger every day.

  9. Anonymous

    The Globe seems to make funny choices. They understand that they are fighting for their survival but they choose to shun certain media outlets. I am referring to their “ban” on their sportswriters from appearing on a local sports talk show. I used to enjoy these on air visits and often times i would go to the paper to re read a story in the Globe that i heard about on the radio. Seems to me that political correctness is more important to the Globe than selling newspapers. As a media company should you be in the business of “banning” speech? Couldnt the Globe do more good by reaching out to the radio masses? Why cant the Globe commercialize their own radio station? They talent that is superb, smart, and intresting. In todays world you must always be marketing by whatever means possible and the Globe has not adopted this philosophy.

  10. mike_b1

    Dan, you’re right that USA Today has marketed itself to hotels like mad. But so has the WSJ. I spend what seems to be half my life in airports. And the paper I see the most: USA Today. Likewise, I would surmise that the WSJ sells more subscriptions to businesses than it does individuals. So Sheraton or Morgan Stanley? Either way, their money is green.At the end of the day, does it really matter *who* is buying it, so long as it’s being bought?

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