New GlobeReader adds puzzle and is puzzling

The Boston Globe is taking its GlobeReader product in a different direction, and I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense.

First, the good news: it’s gotten better. GlobeReader now includes a feature that lets you copy or e-mail a link, just like the parent company’s Times Reader. It’s also added the crossword puzzle, comics, a weather map and TV listings.

Now for the not-so-good. Previously GlobeReader was free to all print subscribers, including those who took home delivery only on Sundays. Moreover, you couldn’t have it for any price unless you were at least a Sunday subscriber. Given that the Globe reportedly earns some two-thirds of its revenues from the Sunday edition, the strategy seemed like a reasonably smart way of preserving the Sunday paper.

The new GlobeReader, by contrast, is available without any home delivery at all. The cost: $4.98 a week. But if you want to get it for free, you need to take home delivery of the print edition seven days a week. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay something. (I called a very polite clerk at the Globe who struggled to explain what the cost of GlobeReader would be for Sunday subscribers. It was nominal, but it wasn’t free.)

In other words, the Globe has given me a choice that it doesn’t want me to make. Several months ago, we switched to Sunday-only delivery, supplemented by GlobeReader the other six days. If we stick with Sundays-only, we’ll pay extra for GlobeReader. We could resume seven-day print delivery — but we’ve already decided we can’t afford $50 a month. Or we could pay $21 or $22 a month for GlobeReader access only. That couldn’t possibly be good for the Globe, since GlobeReader is practically ad-free.

(Conversely, this may make sense as we move into what may prove to be the post-advertising age. With no printing or distribution costs, GlobeReader is pure revenue.)

I should note, too, that the New York Times has long made Times Reader available for free to Sunday-only subscribers like us. Perhaps that’s going to change as well.

It strikes me that the new strategy, rather than shoring up the Sunday edition, will simply encourage customers to sign up for GlobeReader seven days a week — or read the paper for free at Boston.com. Although we hear from time to time that that may be coming to an end as well.

Like all newspapers, the first imperative for the Globe is to survive, and to make enough money to support a robust journalistic mission. I’m not sure this is the way to do it. But I guess we’ll find out.