At the Globe, higher prices, lower circulation

If you take a look at the new list of the top 25 daily newspapers in the United States, you might notice something odd: the Boston Globe, a longtime fixture, has disappeared. In fact, the Globe’s weekday circulation has plunged so much that it now sells fewer papers than the Oregonian, the San Diego Union-Tribune and Newark’s Star-Ledger.

In a memo to Globe staff members that was obtained by Media Nation, publisher Chris Mayer says the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show the Globe’s weekday paid print circulation is now 232,432, down 23 percent from a year ago. On Sundays, a category in which the Globe is still a top-25 paper, circulation is 378,949, a decline of 19 percent.

Circulation continues to drop almost everywhere. But the Globe’s particularly steep decline was the calculated result of a 30 percent to 50 percent (depending on the geographic area) hike in home-delivery rates, Mayer writes. The move is credited with helping to stabilize the Globe’s shaky finances. And it drove even longtime print subscribers like the Media Nation household to switch to home delivery on Sundays only; the other six days we subscribe to GlobeReader, a paid electronic edition of the paper.

Mayer also reports that the local audience for Boston.com, the Globe’s website, is up 16 percent over the past year.

I don’t have any hard figures for the Boston Herald, but Jon Chesto of the Patriot Ledger reports that the Herald’s weekday circulation fell by 12 percent over the past year. That would put the Herald’s Monday-to-Friday current circulation at about 140,000. Sunday circulation at the Herald was about 95,000 a year ago.

The full text of Mayer’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

As you may know the ABC March Fas-Fax six-month circulation numbers were released today, and as we anticipated, the Globe has shown significant year-over-year declines, as a result of our pricing strategy instituted last summer.

The Globe’s circulation, now at 378,949 on Sunday and 232,432 daily, still leaves us the most dominant newspaper in New England. The year-to-year decreases of about 19% on Sunday and 23% daily were just about what we budgeted. We raised prices last summer in most areas by 30% to 50% to grow circulation revenue and stabilize the business.

To stress the point, these decreases were forecast and taken into account before launching our strategy. We set out in this direction not only to cope with the effects of the recession on advertising, but to compensate for the structural shift of advertising to the Web.

In terms of readership, also included in the ABC Fas-Fax report, we reach 32% of all adults in the metro market on Sunday and 20% each weekday. In contrast to our print circulation declines, Boston.com’s local audience grew by 16%. When you factor in Boston.com, our readership is even more impressive. Currently, during an average week, the Sunday Globe, the daily Globe and Boston.com together will reach more than half of all adults in the metro Boston area.

We are also developing additional news platforms to attract audiences. For instance, our mobile product usage is growing considerably, as is our recently launched app for the iPhone. We launched GlobeReader, and are working full-speed on other initiatives. Our goal is to be available wherever and whenever the consumer wants – on whatever device they prefer.

No local media can point to such a large audience or dynamic media portfolio. It’s heartening to know that hundreds of thousands of adults choose to rely on the Globe’s quality news each and every day, and that the newspaper has a core loyal audience who is willing to pay a premium for our product.

Thank you for your continued commitment to our mission.

— Chris

7 thoughts on “At the Globe, higher prices, lower circulation

  1. Laurence Kranich

    So Dan, how do you like Globe Reader now that it’s been around for awhile? There is a lot to like: fast maneuvering, easy to read typefaces and formatting, pretty good newspaper-like organization. The pictures are especially dynamic – if you look at the News In Pictures section, you suddenly realize just how much great photography is to be found in one edition of the Globe. I spend about as much time with Globe Reader as I would with the daily paper, so I’m almost satisfied.

    But there are still some ways I like the printed paper better. It’s faster to read when you can quickly see that one story is a page-topper with a big banner, and another is a one paragraph quickie at the bottom of the page. Globe Reader sometimes leaves you guessing, and the headlines don’t always give you a good idea of what the story is about. Sometimes I get tired of the layout in the Globe Reader that’s always the same every day. And I’m surprised to say this, but I miss the ads when I don’t see the print edition. It’s a little worrying to see that all the Globe Reader advertisers have apparently abandoned ship.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Laurence: I like GlobeReader a lot, but agree with you completely about the lack of ads. It makes me feel like I’m in a bit of a ghost town. The three things I’d most like to see: (1) an image of the front page; (2) a better organizational scheme for “g”; and (3) links to multimedia features.

  2. Bob Brosseau

    Dan, this is the best read this morning on this issue. Out of curiosity, do you have any hard numbers on where daily and/or Sunday circ is now vs 5 or 10 years ago. I haven’t seen those numbers and thought it might be interesting.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: Thanks. I can’t take the time right now to research your question, but I do know that during its heyday in the 1980s, and probably even into the early ’90s, the Globe’s circulation was well over 500,000 on weekdays and 800,000 on Sundays.

  3. Mary DeChillo

    Dan, even if your estimates of prior circulations in the 80’s and 90’s are off, the numbers of the decline are still staggering.

    I grew up in Maine where my father, as a luxury in a houseold which was always near the financial cliff, used to bring home the Globe, in addition to his two dailies–the Portland Press Herald and the Biddeford-Saco Journal. I was especially thrilled to see the rare Sunday Globe.

    As a young adult I moved to New Jersey and New York and got used to commuting while reading the Times. I became hooked. My husband, a lifelong New Yorker, had already adopted the Times. When we moved here from Oregon in 1995(leaving the Oregonian), I was very excited to be getting the Globe.

    In the years since our household has been a Globe-free zone. My husband, after several trials of getting the Globe through the years, finally threw up his hands and said , “unless you like to follow local sports teams,(and he doesn’t), this paper has almost no substantive coverage of international or national news”. (this same displeasure happened with the Oregonian).

    I am sad to admit that I don’t buy hard copies of the Globe unless I am out. I read the Globe on-line each day and do feel like I am stealing. I like the local news, the investigative stories, and the commentary but have to admit my husband is right (and I hate to!), that I go to the Times or the Washington Post for substantive national and international coverage.

    The budget issues are real and the on-line challenges seem to have no solution. My father, a high school graduate who didn’t have the resources to go to college, used newspapers to eduate himself about the world beyond Maine. He was one of those people who really did worry about what happens when the press can no longer provide its function in holding public and private institutions accountable. It bothered him even then (the 60’s and 70’s), that the “Boston papers” were collapsing into far fewer. He would be really worried now.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Mary: Just to clarify: I am right about the numbers. I might be a little off about the years. The Globe is going through a necessary adjustment to focusing on regional and local news. I think the biggest challenge for the Globe, even among news junkies, is that it’s an in-between paper, too small to cover international and national news, but too big to cover the truly local news available in community weeklies and dailies. Are there enough people hungering for regional news to provide the Globe with a healthy circulation base? We are going to find out.

  4. Mary DeChillo

    Dan,
    I agree with the “in between” analysis. Don’t know what the market will be. I do find myself on the on-line edition clicking onto the regional coverage as my brother and sister still live in Maine. My brother is a Maine State Senator, so I am interested in state politics. I have often noticed how extensive the regional coverage can be, though often not in a lot of depth. But it is still a good way to keep in touch with my state-of-origin. I track K-12 and state higher education stories as my husband and I are in higher ed and I like to see what is happening elsewhere.

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