The news about paid circulation at Boston’s two daily newspapers is so-so. The Boston Globe is hanging in there, trading paid print for paid digital, while the Boston Herald continues its long, slow slide.
First the Globe. This week the paper published its Statements of Ownership for both the Sunday and daily papers, something it’s required to do under federal postal laws. Average weekday paid print distribution for the one-year period from Sept. 1, 2022, to Aug. 31, 2023, was 64,977, down from 74,220 a year earlier. That’s a decline of nearly 12.5%. The story was the same on Sunday, as the paid print edition on average registered a decline from 128,920 to 116,456, or about 9.7%.
Paid digital, though, gave those numbers a boost. Using the methodology employed by the Alliance for Audited Media, the average weekday combined print and digital circulation for the 12-month period that ended Aug. 31 was, 346,944, up from 337,748 a year earlier. That’s an increase of 2.7%. On Sunday, total paid circulation is now at 408,974, compared to 403,566 the year before. That’s up about 1.3%.
Now, why am I invoking AAM’s methodology? Because its figures have always involved some double-counting, and it’s not entirely clear what they’re measuring and what they’re not measuring. For instance, according to the Globe’s Statements of Ownership, its current average paid electronic distribution on weekdays is 281,967, and on Sundays it’s 292,518. Globe spokeswoman Heidi Flood told me that those numbers are taken from the figures that the paper reports to AAN using the auditing agency’s rules. Also, digital subscribers to the Globe know that you pay one price, so different numbers for weekdays and Sundays make little sense.
So what is the Globe’s own assessment of its paid digital circulation base? Flood told me in an email that the Globe currently has “more than 245,000 digital-only subscriptions.” That’s an increase of about 10,000 since February 2022, when then-editor Brian McGrory said in an email to his staff that paid digital was around 235,000.
Given all that, let’s put current paid circulation of the Globe at about 310,000 on weekdays and 361,000 on Sundays. That’s more or less unchanged over the past year or so, although readership continues to shift from print to digital. Print brings in more money than digital both from subscribers and advertisers, but it also costs more. The Trump years and the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a lot of growth at the Globe, and that has now leveled off.
One possible good omen for the Globe is that the Statements of Ownership show slightly higher paid circulation on the days closest to the filing dates, in early September 2023, than the 12-month averages. That could mean growth continued over the previous year, but I don’t want to overinterpret a small (literally a one-day) sample size.
Over at the Herald, meanwhile, journalist Mark Pickering has taken a look at the latest AAM reports, which cover the six-month period ending March 31 of this year. Pickering, writing for the newsletter Contrarian Boston (sub. req.), found that paid weekday print circulation at the Herald was down 20%, from 20,353 to 16,043; on Sunday, the print Herald dropped 16%, from 23,702 to 19,799.
The Herald’s combined print and digital weekday circulation dropped from 50,707 to 46,783, for a decline of around 8%. But remember, AAM’s digital numbers are somewhat inflated, as some print subscribers are also counted as digital subscribers. As with the weekday numbers, add about 30,000 digital subscribers to get the Herald’s combined paid Sunday circulation.
“For the Herald,” Pickering wrote, “the numbers seem to show that there will be some circulation to be gained through digital subscribers, but how much remains to be seen.”