BostonGlobe.com wins two major Web awards

A little more than two months after its launch, BostonGlobe.com has won two major awards from the trade journal Editor & Publisher: Best Daily Newspaper Website and Best Overall Website Design. The Globe’s Boston.com site also won an award, for Best Entertainment Website. All three prizes were in the category of newspaper sites with at least one million unique visitors a month.

The so-called EPPY Awards are a recognition of the Globe’s innovative approach in designing its new paid site — a reliance on “responsive design,” based on HTML5, that allowed programmers to put together one website that adjusts itself to fit a variety of devices, from computers to smartphones.

In using the site, I’ve found that I have to do more clicking and scrolling than I’d like. It’s fine for reading a few stories, but not necessarily the whole paper. I’ve even reverted to GlobeReader on occasion, despite its being somewhat long in the tooth. But BostonGlobe.com is startlingly fast, which makes the clicking easier to deal with, and the design and usability have been improved here and there since its debut.

The real story, of course, is how many readers have signed up for paid digital subscriptions. And that’s a story that, so far, has yet to be told.

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BostonGlobe.com fires up the cash register

BostonGlobe.com is supposed to shut down any minute now. When it returns, at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, it will become a paid site, eventually costing $3.99 a week. The best deal: taking home delivery of the Sunday paper for $3.50 a week, which gives you access to all of the Globe’s digital content for no extra charge.

Since the debut of the website in September, I’ve heard people complain that it’s too cumbersome to use. My own experience is that it’s gotten better, and that folks at the Globe are responsive to suggestions. In particular, the “Today’s Paper” section has improved. But it works better as a breaking-news site.

Thus I still find myself making some use of GlobeReader, the Adobe Air-based platform that serves as a pretty good representation of that day’s Globe. It’s not perfect — content is sometimes missing, and photos seem like an afterthought. But for those of us who still like to flip through the paper, I find you can do so much more efficiently than you can with the website. (You can use GlobeReader with a laptop or desktop computer, but not with an iPad or a smartphone, since those don’t support Air.)

Globe publisher Chris Mayer told me in August that GlobeReader would continue to be offered for some time to come, but would not be improved and would eventually be phased out. So it’s not a permanent solution.

So let me suggest that the Globe work on something similar to New York Times Skimmer, a website that presents all of the Times’ major RSS feeds in a Reader-like format. I think offering that in addition to the standard website would give readers a couple of good options depending on how much time they had and what device they were using. And Skimmer works on the iPad.

This morning’s BostonGlobe.com report

The next few weeks should be interesting as the folks at the Boston Globe work out the bugs at BostonGlobe.com.

Starting last night, the site stopped working on my almost-four-year-old MacBook using Chrome and Safari. (Might be just my set-up, though I did reboot.) On the other hand, it still works fine with Firefox, for which I’ve recently been developing a new appreciation, as it seems to be the most stable of the three major Mac browsers. No problems on my iPhone or on Mrs. Media Nation’s iPad, either.

I’m glad to see Dan Wasserman’s editorial cartoon made it to the site today, and I hope syndicated cartoons will be included on days that Wasserman isn’t drawing. The comics are online today, too. Maybe they were yesterday, but I couldn’t find them.

Other observations: clean as the site is, the organizational scheme is a bit bewildering, with many different options. I feel as though I’m missing stuff. The “Today’s Paper” option doesn’t seem to be quite that. It would be nice to have a clearly delineated separate section of everything that’s in that day’s print edition.

Also, how about combining all the little “Names” tidbits into one column? Other “g” shorts could be combined, too. I don’t want to keep clicking to read 90-word items. It’s one of my main peeves about GlobeReader, too, and I’ll bet I’m not alone.

Subscriber-based BostonGlobe.com debuts

Readers turning to Boston.com this morning and clicking on “Today’s Globe” found something new — an invitation to register for the new BostonGlobe.com, a paid site that will be getting a free trial for the rest of September. After that, it will cost $3.99 a week, which makes it among the more ambitious attempts to persuade online news consumers to pay for content.

I was among a number of media observers who were given a sneak preview last month by Globe publisher Chris Mayer and editor Marty Baron. I’ve got a longer take on the new site up at the Nieman Journalism Lab, focusing mainly on the site’s use of HTML5, which enables the Globe to offer a standalone app for the iPad and iPhone and avoid paying Apple its 30 percent cut.

Also, Nieman’s Joshua Benton offers four observations and asks lots of questions. Jeff Sonderman has a rundown at Poynter. Staci D. Kramer covers the launch for paidContent. And there’s plenty of coverage at BostonGlobe.com itself, starting here.

Access to BostonGlobe.com is included with any type of print subscription, including Sundays-only. Since the Sunday-paper-plus-GlobeReader has been our solution of choice for a while now, this is nothing but a plus here in Media Nation.

Reflecting on the latest circulation figures

In Japan, advertising accounts for just 35 percent of newspaper revenue. In Britain, it’s 50 percent. And in the United States, ads have traditionally amounted to a whopping 87 percent of newspaper income. That’s why it can truly be said that, in the U.S., newspapers have always given away the news, charging only for paper and delivery.

These days we pay for computers and broadband access while getting the news for free — same as it ever was. That is among the most important explanations for why news organizations are going to have a difficult time persuading more than a handful of readers to pay for online access. I wish them well. But the challenge is enormous.

One thing some readers will continue to pay for is the convenience of print. (Spare me your nostalgia for the romance of print. Print persists for one reason: it’s still more ergonomically friendly than any electronic version. Someday that will change.)

After yesterday’s newspaper circulation figures were released, showing a continued but slowing decline in print sales industry-wide, Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer issued a memo — a copy of which was obtained by Media Nation — attributing the Globe’s continued slide to last year’s decision to raise the price to as much as the market would bear. (Here is the Boston Herald’s take.)

The idea is that there’s a sweet spot. Up to a point, you can raise prices and make more money, even if the total number of print readers declines. Somewhere, though, there’s a top to the curve, and the challenge is to find the top and not raise prices so much that revenues start to fall. The result, unfortunately, is that you end up with a niche product for an elite readership. But it’s either that or die.

And here’s a good piece of news. There’s also a sizable subset of readers who will pay for electronic editions like Times Reader and GlobeReader, which are cheaper than print but more convenient than newspaper websites that keep you chained to your desk. Given that iPad editions have barely kicked into gear, that’s a promising sign.

The full text of Mayer’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today the Audit Bureau of Circulations issued their Fas-Fax report for the six months ending September 30th. The Globe has shown year-over-year declines in line with our expectations, as a result of our circulation and pricing strategy instituted last summer.

The good news is the rate of circulation decline has slowed as we cycle through the impact of the price increases. One indicator is the comparison between September’s report and March’s report. Viewed this way, the declines are 2.8% for Sunday and 4.2% for daily. These are encouraging trends for our business and in line with others in our industry.

The past few months has also seen continued excellence in our reporting and positive contributions to the community. Our Spotlight Team investigation of patronage in the state’s probation department; our sensitive series of stories on bullying; the amazing coverage of the Amy Bishop case; coverage of the earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and its impact in Boston; and our current coverage of the political races are just a few examples of the important journalism we’re delivering.

The Globe’s circulation, now at 368,000 on Sunday and 223,000 daily, still makes us the largest newspaper in New England by a wide margin. The year-over-year decreases of about 15.7% on Sunday and 12.0% daily were expected and budgeted.  To offer some context, we raised prices last summer in most areas by 30% to 50% to grow circulation revenue and stabilize the business.

Of course, circulation numbers are not the end of the story. Print and online media work in concert with one another to build audience. It should be noted then that in terms of readership, during an average week, the Sunday Globe, the daily Globe and Boston.com together will reach 51% of all adults in the metro Boston area.  It will also be reported in Monday’s Fas-Fax that Boston.com’s local audience grew by 2.9 %.

The recently announced two-brand digital strategy is now officially under way and we are developing launch plans for our new subscription-based Web site BostonGlobe.com, and the next generation Boston.com. And, watch forperiodic launches of digital products in the upcoming months.

So, as we look ahead we will continue to execute on our strategy, building on the strong foundation of quality journalism, original content, broad audience reach, higher reader engagement, advertising effectiveness, and strong connection with the community that is reflected by, and results in, our more than 50% of the market.

We can all share a sense of optimism and purpose as we focus on our future success.

— Chris

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Too much automation?

Check out this wildly inappropriate juxtaposition in today’s GlobeReader. Here’s the same story, with a rather different photo, from Boston.com.

Tuesday tech talk from a non-techie

Welcome to the tech blog whose author almost knows what he’s talking about. I know just enough to be dangerous, folks. Here are three tidbits for your Tuesday morning.

1. Beyond Google Reader. Last week Laura McGann of the Nieman Media Lab was rhapsodizing to a group of us about the glories of NetNewsWire, an RSS aggregator that resides on your computer rather than in the cloud, as is the case with Google Reader.

I was not entirely unfamiliar with NetNewsWire. I’d played with it before, but preferred a competitor called NewsFire. Several years ago, though, I made the switch to Google Reader and hadn’t looked back.

But lately, like many people, I’d found myself looking at Google Reader less and following interesting links from Twitter more. In part it’s because I really like Twitter. In part, though, it was because Google Reader just wasn’t all that satisfying — it’s slower than using a good client-based news reader and shows you less content before you click.

So a few days ago I reinstalled NetNewsWire and found, to my delight, that it now syncs with Google Reader, which means you don’t really have to decide. It’s fast and free (if you don’t mind looking at advertising; I don’t). If you’ve been losing interest in Google Reader, give NetNewsWire a try.

2. From Chrome to Safari and back again. When Apple unveiled Safari 5 a few months ago, I made the switch from Google Chrome. Though not quite as fast as Chrome (I’ve seen test results that say otherwise, but that’s not my experience), Safari was aesthetically more pleasing. My favorite feature, Reader, isolates the text in a story or blog post and presents it in as a beautifully rendered, easy-to-read page. On a properly designed website, Reader will even find the jump and display that, too.

Then Xmarks went out of business. Xmarks is a browser extension that lets you sync your bookmarks in the cloud and use them across multiple computers. An e-mail from the company outlined the alternatives — free for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, but $99 for Safari via Apple’s MobileMe service.

As it turns out, there are at least two free extensions for Chrome — Readability Redux and iReader — that do what Safari’s Reader does, and are more customizable besides. So goodbye Safari.

3. The future of Reader. OK, different Reader — now I’m talking about Times Reader and GlobeReader, the paid electronic editions of the New York Times and the Boston Globe built on Adobe Air.

I’ve been a big fan of Reader since it was unveiled a couple of years ago, but I find that it hasn’t kept up. And with the development folks furiously working on iPad and mobile editions, it doesn’t seem likely that much brain power is going to be devoted to improving them, my wish list aside.

I recently asked Globe publisher Christopher Mayer how many subscribers GlobeReader had attracted. His answer: that’s proprietary. But, anecdotally, I’ve heard that neither Times Reader nor GlobeReader has attracted many paying customers.

Here’s what I like about Reader: it’s fast, it’s highly readable and you don’t need an Internet connection once that day’s edition has been downloaded. What I miss, though, is the richness of the Web — the slideshows, the videos, even the advertising. Lately, more often than not, I find myself using the “Today’s Paper” feature of NYTimes.com, supplemented with Chrome’s iReader extension. (I still tend to use GlobeReader because the “Today’s Globe” section of Boston.com can be so slow.)

Maybe the Reader editions have a future. But my suspicion is that they are just going to fade away for lack of interest.

The Herald is still waiting for digital deliverance

Click on image for larger view

Having devoted a considerable number of pixels recently to writing about digital versions of the Boston Globe (here and here), I figured it was time to check in on the city’s second daily, the Boston Herald.

The good news, which you probably already know, is that the Herald has a vibrant, fast-loading free website that’s clearly differentiated from the print edition. But is there some way of paying for electronic delivery of the full Herald, as there is with the Globe through GlobeReader?

The short answer is yes, but no. The Herald does have an “Electronic Edition” (also known as the “Smart Edition”) that costs $11 every four weeks for seven-day access — $10 if you renew automatically. That’s not a bad deal, as it would cost a bit more than $17 every four weeks for print delivery, not counting tip. But though it would be overly harsh to call the Electronic Edition unusable, it’s certainly not good enough to entice me away from the Herald’s website.

Simply put, the e-edition is a full PDF of the paper with a few add-ons. You can make a page larger and try to read it that way. You can click on a story, and the software will attempt to render a text version — not bad when it works, but it doesn’t always capture the full story. If you diligently page through the entire digital paper, you’re likely to run across a few items that you’d miss if you just scanned the website. But it’s not a satisfying experience.

You can also click to have a story read to you out loud. It’s good for a laugh, but that’s all.

The Electronic Edition offers several other options as well. You can read the paper on your mobile device or an e-reader, save it for offline reading using a program called PressReader, or add an RSS feed to your aggregator. But without going into excruciating detail, let me just say that I’ve given all of those options a try (I’m still attempting to get the paper to download to the BlackBerry version of PressReader) and found that they still fell short of simply reading the Herald on the Web — or in print.

The problem is that reading online is simply a different experience from reading in print. The Herald website respects that difference; the Electronic Edition is the complete opposite, as it represents a kludgy attempt to shoehorn the print edition onto your computer screen. (I do not know whether the e-edition is different from the Herald’s NewsStand edition, another PDF delivery service. It does look like NewsStand costs a bit more.)

When the Globe announced last week that it would move some of its online content behind a pay wall next year, Herald publisher Pat Purcell acknowledged that he’s considering his options as well. I hope one of those options will be to drop the electronic edition and embrace a first-rate digital-delivery system similar to GlobeReader.

How to make Reader editions better

No doubt the best coding brains at the New York Times Co. are focused on iPad development these days. But as a paid subscriber to the Reader editions of the New York Times and the Boston Globe, I have a few suggestions for how they could be better. I’d want to see these ideas incorporated into the iPad app as well, so please consider this a two-fer:

1. A front-page image of the print edition should be included, just as it is on the papers’ websites. We Reader readers, to coin a phrase, exist in a sort of electronic halfway house: we still read the paper as the paper, but we don’t mind giving up ink on dead trees. So we, of all customers, want to get a sense of what the front looks like.

2. The Reader organizational scheme should be as clear and easy-to-follow as the simple list format the papers use on their websites for that day’s edition (Globe here; Times here). Yes, I can skim through every Reader story very quickly, but sometimes I’d like to select a section front, then pick and choose.

3. Mega-dittoes for the Globe’s “g” section, which is just a mess in Reader. Way too many short items are just thrown up there. It needs a complete rethink.

4. Folks at the Globe need to take photos more seriously when putting together the Reader edition. There are too many instances of context-free pictures with no captions.

5. Reader editions should always link to multimedia extras such as videos. I know of a few occasions when I’ve found out hours after reading the paper that I missed on a terrific video.

My fear is that the Reader platform hasn’t attracted enough users to make further development worthwhile. I almost never see an ad other than a house ad, for instance. I still think it’s a promising idea, though, and perhaps development can take place in parallel with the iPad.

More on the cost of GlobeReader

What is the Boston Globe now charging if you want to get home delivery of the Sunday paper plus GlobeReader? When I called the subscription department yesterday, I got an answer that was so confusing I chose not to report it. But now it looks like rozzie02131 has figured it out.

The answer: $5 a week after an introductory offer. That’s an increase of nearly 43 percent over the old price of $3.50. But the new GlobeReader is a lot better. And it still works out to half the cost of seven-day home delivery.

Interestingly, the Globe appears to have turned its pricing model upside-down. Previously, you got GlobeReader for free if you were a Sunday subscriber. Now — given that GlobeReader by itself costs $5 a week — you get the Sunday paper for free if you sign up for GlobeReader.