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

Figuring out the Globe’s new price structure

I’m not going to complain about the latest price increases announced by the Boston Globe, since I’m on the record as believing that newspapers can and should charge a lot more for their print editions. But does it have to be so confusing?

As home-delivery customers, we get charged by the month — $35.16, to be exact. But the new prices are by the week. Since we live in Greater Boston, the new price for us will be $12.25. As best as I can figure out, based on the Globe’s explanation, that’s an increase of $3 per week. Media Nation is an algebra-free zone. But if $9.25 is to $35.16 as $12.25 is to x, then I guess the new monthly price is $46.56.

Over at the Boston Phoenix, Adam Reilly, ponders moving to online-only, and asks whether his readers will pay the higher price. My answer: I couldn’t rely solely on Boston.com, the Globe’s free Web site, because its ad servers are miserably slow. It’s fine for reading a few stories, but not the whole paper.

If I had a Kindle, I would certainly consider switching to the Globe’s Kindle edition, which costs $9.99 a month. And if there were a Globe Reader e-version similar to the new Times Reader 2.0, I would consider dropping print and subscribing to that instead.

As is the case with many newspaper observers, my sense is that the advertising market won’t come back that strongly even after the recession ends. There have simply been too many systemic changes — the rise of Craigslist and the fall of downtown retail businesses to name perhaps the two most important.

In such an environment, newspapers are going to have to find a way to get readers to pick up more of the cost. It may be a hopeless task, and it may fail, as Warren Buffett warned recently. But unless they try, failure is guaranteed.

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25 Comments

  1. NewsHound

    It’s already failed. Charging more and losing more readership makes it worse.This is the same business that can pay directors and executives millions but can destroy its most valuable asset – heavy readership penetration. Without that it’s done, and at less than 30% it is close to dead already.

  2. Mike from Norwell

    Hey Dan:Our bills have always been for a 4-week cycle (and my bill was $37 per cycle; guess that extra $1.84 covers gas down to Duxbury). They probably wanted to show $12.25 rather than $49; $1 off the magical $50 which will probably be the tipping point for cancellations (if you just buy the paper off of the newsstand and you’re in the close in city pricing, you’re looking at a 7 day purchase cost of $9.50 v. $12.25 delivered. That’s a $143 difference per year w/o even factoring in tip for the delivery person.May drop subscription (but pick up at newsstand from now on). With people getting hit from all sides (somehow will have to come up with the money for all of these “cups of coffee” referenced by D. Patrick), this might be the final straw for many folks.If I lived far out or was a shut in, would probably put up with the increase; but since I’m out and about every day, will be a newsstander now. How that factors into their circulation figures and economic health with me moving from subscriber I don’t know.

  3. Brigid

    We had a discussion about this this morning. We subscribe by the year, and it’s almost time to re-up. The only thing keeping us from dropping the Globe altogether is that their website is so miserable—is that part of their strategy?The problem is not so much the price increase as the price increase couled with a sharp drop in the quality and quantity of the content. Less paper for more money? No thanks.We get the Times as well, and although I resent their poor stewardship of the Globe, I’m wiling to let them be my local paper (supplemented by the web) if the Globe is just going to keep going downhill.

  4. NewsHound

    The overlying problem with newspapers is building substantial readership and circulation.However, complicated subscription rates, and even much worse, complicated advertising rates are a disaster to this business.Traditionally, newspapers charged a lower subscription rate for in-county primarily because of postal rates. But advertising rate cards that require merchants to utilize mathematical genius skills to determine their best opportunity instead of employing such skill in managing their own store only serves to confuse and diminish sales.Every element of doing business with a newspaper should be easy and simple – advertising, subscribing, submitting news, etc.We all know there is competition out there and newspapers are not that essential and as such, newspapers can take all their complicated structures with them to the graveyard.

  5. Bill Weye

    Maybe I’m a real jerk, but when price structures for products or services get overly complicated, I usually walk away and look for an alternative. Trying to decipher price structures doesn’t seem like a good use of my time, so I walk away. In this case, the alternative would be the free web site.This is like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and is kind of embarrassing. Craigslist to Boston Globe … I drink your milk shake! I drink it up!

  6. rozzie02131

    The price is exactly what I thought it would be, except for Sundays. $1.50 a day, $3.50 on Sundays, you “save” 25 cents by getting 7 day service. It’s again going to be one of the most expensive papers in the U.S. The Washington Post, by comparison, costs $18.78 for 7 days/4 weeks and the LA Times is $23.20.Globe Reader is on the way soon. Take a look:http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/reader/

  7. matteomht

    No, Bill W., you’re exactly right and I do the same thing. I also look for something else when a company starts charging me more to give me less, which is what the Globe has been doing for years– hence I canceled.

  8. Mike from Norwell

    One point to consider: That $49 also can be expressed as $637 on an annual basis for a Globe subscription on paper. That is not a trivial expense; I’d say the Globe has just shut off about 2/3 of their readership from affordability.One observation: Amazon is charging $9.99 per month (basically $120/year) for the Kindle version of the Boston Globe. Even going for the Kindle DX at $489 (smaller Kindle is $350), don’t need to think too hard to see that you’re saving money in less than a year.

  9. Ron Newman

    I do not understand how this price increase is going to restore the Globe to financial health. Fewer subscribers will result in fewer advertisers, or in advertisers buying smaller and cheaper ads, or in the Globe being forced to lower the rates that it charges advertisers.How can any of that help the Globe?

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Ron: The move was made on the supposition that the advertising isn’t coming back. Sadly, that’s probably right.

  11. Ron Newman

    But I’m talking about the advertisers that the Globe still has today. Those advertisers aren’t going to be happy paying the same rate for reduced circulation. So they’ll either cut back on ads, or force the rates down. Neither of these sounds to me like good news for the Globe.

  12. acf

    Bill Weye: You’re on to something. I’ve done the same thing many times, myself. Switching from the monthly format to the weekly one is a way of sneaking more revenue from customers who continue to subscribe to the same number of papers. It’s similar to food packagers, such as candy mfgrs, who shrink the size of packaging while claiming to be holding the line on price, and the reason why markets have to display unit pricing stickers for their wares. I had the misfortune to go to CVS a couple of days ago to get something for a spring cold (allergy?). Try it some time. The experience is as bad as the malady. Do you want Zyrtec, Claritin, some other proprietary wonder, or the CVS brand generic? Once you get by that question, there’s the matter of capsule, gel tab, tablet, followed by 6 packs, 10 packs, 12 packs, and on it goes. My point is that it is marketing gone amok. If the sneezing and stuffiness weren’t bothering me so much, I would have walked out. Getting back to the Globe, I have to study the pricing more, but at this point, I’m thinking of dumping the Sunday paper. We’ll have to see.

  13. George

    My wife and I have subscribed to the Boston Globe for almost 45 years. We stuck with the globe through the school desegregation turmoil and even the Paul Szep years didn’t scare us away. $637 per year is too much. We will be cancelling our daily subscription and will either change it to a Sunday only subscription (the food coupons almost pay for the paper on Sunday) or decide to walk down to the local convenience store every Sunday morning.

  14. NewsHound

    acf – you shouldn’t have to study the pricing to determine what to do.If this were the way it was and the way it should be, it would be so simple there’d be nothing to study. Beyond that, you and everyone else in town would buy the paper without giving it much thought.

  15. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, after rereading your post, Globe has always billed on a 4 week cycle, never by the month or by the week. Showing increase by a weekly basis is only to mask the full impact of the price increase. The reality is that the Globe is now on par with broadband Internet monthly charges. I do fork over the money for the WSJ each month online, but is a fraction of the print costs. Did some searching around at other papers and the WaPo is half the price of the Globe for a print subscription. Why is Boston so different that costs are astronomical for what is now just a local newspaper?Did sign up for info on the Globereader. If this is a “value added” for subscribers, may consider, but I’d dust off that calculator and look at the math on the Amazon pricing of the Kindle and monthly subscription. No contest.

  16. L.K.

    $637 per year divided by 12 months equals 53.08 per month in the real world…. It may only cost YOU 46.56 per month on a professional courtesy discount, but I would say your proportional analysis left you a few dollars short…It’s new math anyway, so accuracy doesn’t really count that much.

  17. Amused

    I just started subscribing again for the first time in years. First, on a small scale, I wanted to show some support. Second, I had noticed that the kids weren’t developing the interest in newspapers that I did at their age. Nothing better than when Dad came home from a business trip with a St. Louis Globe-Democrat or Philadelphia Evening Bulletin or Cleveland Press. So I subscribed and have been leaving the paper on the kitchen table with the sports page exposed to try to draw them in.As far as cost goes, it’s still remarkably inexpensive for what you get. No, the value isn’t what it was five years ago, but it’s still a lot for the money.

  18. Dan Kennedy

    L.K.” Help us out — what the hell are you talking about?Now, getting back to Planet Earth, let me deal with Mike. You say the Globe has always billed on a four-week cycle, yet I can tell you that we’ve had a charge on our Visa bill once a month for years.According to the Globe’s own pricing explanation, home delivery currently costs $9.25 a week. If I multiply that by 4, I get $37. If I multiply 9.25 by 52 and divide by 12, I get $40.08. Yet our monthly charge is $35.16.So it is a mystery.

  19. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: One other thing. The “Globereader” is really just access through NewsStand, the best technology the ’90s had to offer. It’s like a PDF of the whole paper done through Flash. Tried it again last night just to see if it was as bad as I remembered. It is unusable.

  20. rozzie02131

    Dan…you don’t like the PDF Globe but it’s not unusable. I’ve been reading it for 3 years and it’s just fine with me. We disagree, no big deal.But the Globe Reader is indeed coming (they say in June), and it’s not the PDF Globe. From the preview page it looks just like Times Reader. They will start out by offering it to print subscribers. To celebrate, I just ordered up a Sunday subscription.

  21. Dan Kennedy

    Rozzie: I had missed the GlobeReader thing — looks very nice!When I write that something is unusable, I hope it’s understood that *I* find it unusable. Your mileage may vary.

  22. Steve

    I just looked at the new web-based Technology Review and I *like* it. This has always been a handsome hard-copy magazine, but the online edition is more useful – it’s got search capability and hyperlinks to navigate around the issue, and for references and email tags.Since I have about 15 years worth of issues piling up in my library, I think I can do without years more.When it launches officially with the next issue, the subscription becomes either/or (subscribers to the web won’t get the print edition, and vice-versa).My wife and I have held onto our Globe subscription even though we read very little of it outside the editorial/letters/op-ed pages and puzzles. This price hike is the final straw. But if we can print the puzzles from the web-based edition, I think we’ll subscribe to that. That will at least support the news-gathering and layout departments of the paper, and make the printing and distribution obsolete. Perhaps that’s the proper model for the future of newspapers.

  23. Coast Master

    The price increase merely adds insult to injury for home subscribers in the suburbs. Too many days we get “Globe Lite” on our doorstep (or out on the driveway) in Peabody. I am in hope that with a huge price increase we get an earlier edition of the paper, not the 3-star or the often very similar 2-star edition. One of the benefits of the morning newspaper is to read analysis, after events have ended. Big pictures instead of the printed word just won’t cut it, for the new price. Paying premium prices should be accompanied by receiving premium services.

  24. James

    I’m a bit late to the party here, and just catching up on my reading after a few days away, but one sentence here really grabbed me: “I couldn’t rely solely on Boston.com, the Globe’s free Web site, because its ad servers are miserably slow.”This may be beyond the scope of this blog, but I’ve heard similar complaints from several other people, particularly in the last couple of weeks. In particular, I’ve heard of people enabling ad blocking software only on particular sites, such as boston.com, not because of any aversion to ads, but simply because they bog down the site too much.I know that you don’t approve of ad blockers, Dan, but the fact that so many people use them means that “How do I get people to look at ads?” needs to be just as important a question for an ad-driven web site as “How do I get people to look at my site?” Do you think the slow ad servers on boston.com are indicative of a larger problem with boston.com’s priorities? Since their fundamental business is putting ads in front of people’s faces (and attracting them to those ads with news content), shouldn’t ads load at least as fast as the content itself?

  25. Dan Kennedy

    James: There is no question that Boston.com is virtually inviting people to install ad-blocking software. I won’t do it on principle … but neither will I waste much time with a site that takes forever to load. This has to be fixed.

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