The Boston Globe’s digital subscriptions approach the 270,000* mark

The Boston Globe’s paid digital circulation has reached the 270,000 range, according to the annual publisher’s statements that appear in Sunday’s and today’s editions.

It was only in May that the Globe passed the 200,000 mark — a long-sought goal that had been seen internally as the benchmark for financial sustainability. Nevertheless, the new figure (268,337 as of Sept. 4) comes with a caveat. Like many papers, the Globe has been signing up new subscribers at a steep discount. The challenge will be holding onto them once they are asked to re-up at the full rate of $30 a month.

How quickly has the Globe added digital subscribers? The publisher’s statement says that the average for the previous 12 months was 199,172. And editor Brian McGrory said earlier this year that the digital circulation was about 145,000 just before the COVID pandemic hit. As devastating as COVID has been to advertising revenue, it’s clearly been very good for reader revenue.

Paid print Friday circulation was down to 81,579 as of early September, lower than the 12-month average by about 1,500. A similar slide was reported in the publisher’s statement that appeared on Sunday: print circulation was 139,307 as of Sept. 6, down nearly 10,000 from the 12-month average. Sunday digital circulation was reported at 271,401. Since digital subscriptions are generally sold by the month, I’m not sure why there’s a slight discrepancy between the Friday and Sunday figures.

Even if you add digital and print together, the Globe’s numbers fall considerably short of the 1970s-’80s heyday, when the paper sold more than 800,000 copies on Sundays and 500,000 on weekdays. Still, it’s an encouraging trendline that has been matched by few other papers below the national level.

*Apples-and-oranges update: In an email to the staff, a copy of which I obtained a little while ago, McGrory said the 270,000 figure can’t be compared directly to the 205,000 number that the Globe hit in May.

“We’ve got just under 223,000 direct digital-only subscribers — people who pay for a purely digital subscription with no print component,” he wrote. The 270,000 number includes subscribers who receive digital as part of their print subscriptions.

McGrory referred to the 223,000 figure as “extraordinary,” adding: “As extraordinary: We’ve been graduating our introductory, $1-for-six-month readers to a full rate at an astounding clip from August into October. In other words, our pandemic subscribers are staying with us at at a level that exceeds anything we’ve previously seen or imagined. So when you hear, or read, that our digital subscription numbers are boosted by a bunch of basically worthless introductory readers, that’s not true. The majority of our subscribers are paying full rate, and those who aren’t are very likely to be when their offer runs out.”

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