Readers show increasing willingness to pick up the tab

New York Times figures include International Herald Tribune. Boston Globe figures include Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Boston.com. Courtesy of Paul McMorrow.

Advertiser-supported journalism isn’t going away, but it’s not going to recover, either. The forces aligned against it are just too overwhelming. Classifieds aren’t coming back. Print is dying. And online advertisers are staying away from news sites even as Internet ads overall continue to grow, as this Reuters report by Jennifer Saba shows.

Which is why the New York Times Co.’s progress in tilting the revenue equation away from advertising and toward readers is so important. Joe Coscarelli of New York magazine writes that circulation revenue at the company’s Big Three newspapers — the Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Boston Globe — is rising faster than ad revenue is falling.

(Coscarelli doesn’t say so, but his Globe numbers are almost certainly for the New England Newspaper Group — the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Boston.com. The Times Co. does not break out those numbers separately.)

Here are the details. In the second quarter of this year, which ended on June 30, the Times Co. lost $88.1 million. Advertising, both in print and online, fell 6.6 percent, to $220 million. But circulation revenue rose 8.3 percent, to $233 million. News-business analyst Ken Doctor tells Coscarelli that the Times Co. may be the first major newspaper company to pull in more money from circulation than from advertising.

The newspaper business had long earned some 80 percent of its revenues from ads. It was often said that the news was free, with readers asked to pay only for printing and delivery. The question facing the industry is whether there are enough readers who value newspapers to pay much more for print than they used to, and to pay anything at all for online access.

The Times and the Globe both have smart, flexible digital-subscription systems that are being closely watched by newspaper executives. (The Telegram & Gazette has a paywall as well, though I’m not familiar enough with it to offer an assessment.) But the Times has been much more successful than the Globe in selling digital subscriptions — 509,000 for the Times and the IHT in the second quarter, compared to about 23,000 for the Globe, according to Chris Reidy of the Globe.

The caution flag for the Globe is that the Times is an utterly unique product — for all its flaws, it is surely the highest-quality, most comprehensive news source in the United States. And it may be the one news source people are willing to pay for.

The Globe is an excellent regional paper, but it’s unlikely that online subscriptions will ever be more than a small part of its revenue stream. Globe executives themselves seem wary of pushing the paywall too hard, as they continue to offer quite a bit of Globe content on the free Boston.com site. Indeed, the chart above, put together by Paul McMorrow of CommonWealth Magazine, shows that circulation revenue as a percentage of overall revenues actually dipped slightly in the second quarter at the New England Media Group.

In other words, the latest numbers are great news for the Times. For everyone else, they are something to aspire to, with no guarantee of success.

A cloudy digital future for New Orleans

It’s the afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, and I’m sure most people have better things to do than to sit around reading media news. So I’ll be brief on the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s decision to cut back its print edition to three days a week.

First, taken in isolation, I think it’s a good idea. Print is inefficient and expensive, and newspaper companies ought to invest in journalism, not printing and distribution. Print ads are still far more lucrative than their online equivalent. But if the diminishing number of advertisers can be squeezed into fewer editions, then that makes a lot of sense.

It is a little strange that New Orleans will be the first major city to try such an experiment, given that 36 percent of residents are not online. But management is promising to beef up those three days’ worth of print editions, so I don’t see any harm. A daily print newspaper is a cultural artifact that doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense anymore.

Second, and unfortunately, we can’t take this in isolation. It seems that Advance, the corporate chain that owns the Times-Picayune, is cutting not just its print edition but also its coverage of the city. (Advance is also doing the same thing at three of its papers in Alabama.)

Reporters are being laid off. Jim Romenesko yesterday heard that there has been talk of drastic salary cuts for those who stay — even though the paper has been profitable and has paid bonuses in recent years. The paper’s website is a disgrace.

This could have been an exciting day for New Orleans if it meant that the Times-Picayune was embracing a bright digital future. Unfortunately, it has all the appearance of a corporate chain trying to bleed dry one of its most celebrated newspapers.

Page-one image from “Today’s Front Pages” at the Newseum.

For newspapers, a digital break from the bad news

It’s hard to know what to make of the latest numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations given that the New York Times gets credit for a paid-circulation boost of 73 percent. Yes, it makes sense to add print and digital subscriptions together. But some of the numbers reported on Tuesday are anomalies that won’t be repeated once digital subscriptions grow into maturity.

Still, good news is good news. Thanks to digital subscriptions, the Boston Globe registered a 2.5 percent circulation boost on Sundays (now 365,512) and a 2.9 percent increase on weekdays (225,482) — the paper’s first increases since 2004. Those numbers, though, do rely to some extent on favorable ABC rules when it comes to counting digital readership.

The Globe reports 18,000 digital subscriptions. ABC gives the Globe credit for about 33,000 digital readers. The difference is that the 18,000 figure counts Globe readers whose only subscription is digital. The higher ABC figure encompasses those whose subscriptions include some combination of print and digital — “engaged home delivery print subscribers who access BostonGlobe.com at least once per week,” according to an email from Peter Doucette, the Globe’s executive director of circulation sales and marketing.

Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell has talked about a paid-subscription model for his paper, and I’d imagine that talk is likely to increase after Tuesday. The Herald’s daily paid circulation fell by 12.3 percent, to 108,548; on Sundays it declined by 6.2 percent, to 81,925. In its own story today, the Herald emphasizes the popularity of its free website, traffic to which it claims is up 25 percent over the past year.

One point the Herald does make in its rather snippy account of the Globe’s numbers is that paid digital circulation simply isn’t as valuable to advertisers as paid print circulation. That’s true, and, if anything, the situation may be deteriorating. According to newspaper analyst Alan Mutter, the share of online advertising going to newspaper websites dropped to an all-time low in 2011.

What that means is the question of who will pay for journalism remains as vital as ever. The newspaper business is proving that at least some of its users are willing to pay for online news. Will there be enough of them to make a real difference — and will they be willing to pay enough to offset the continuing loss of advertising revenues?

Those are questions that will have to be answered. For now, we should all be glad that the issue is whether the new circulation numbers are as good as they seem. That’s a nice break from wondering if the bottom is about to fall out.

Worcester paper abandons printing presses, too

It’s become a flood. The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester has announced it’s shutting down most of its printing operations, costing 64 employees their jobs. The T&G will be printed at the Boston Globe. Both papers are owned by the New York Times Co.

The announcement comes within days of the Boston Herald’s deal with the Globe, and with the New Haven Register’s decision to shut down its presses and shift its printing operations to the Hartford Courant.

Total job loss: 222. Absolutely necessary. And a tragedy for the workers, their families and the local economy.

New Haven Register to stop presses, cut 105 jobs

As a symbol of a newspaper that’s out of touch with its community, you couldn’t do much better (in other words, much worse) than the headquarters of the New Haven Register. The city’s daily newspaper is located in a former shirt factory alongside Interstate 95 amid an undistinguished strip of businesses. A barbed-wire fence surrounds part of the property.

So though you’ve got to be sad at today’s news that the Register will soon be printed by the Hartford Courant and that 105 people will lose their jobs, in the long run it should provide the Register with an opportunity to rebuild its community ties. The New Haven Independent covers the story, and it follows by days the announcement that the Boston Globe will soon begin printing most editions of the Boston Herald.

New Haven Register editor Matt DeRienzo has said he wants to move the staff — or at least part of it — to a downtown location where members of the public will be free to walk in, grab a cup of coffee and observe news meetings — as they already do at a smaller paper he also runs, the Torrington Register Citizen.

Recently, the Register began webcasting its news meetings as well.

Like many papers, the Register moved out of the downtown in the 1970s 1980s as a reflection of the large industrial enterprises they were in those days — manufacturing plants that took deliveries of paper and ink, and then sent fleets of vehicles across the region to distribute the finished product. It made a certain kind of sense, but it also represented the fraying of a relationship with the communities those papers served.

Now the Register’s owner, the Journal Register Co., has embarked on an extensive reinvention effort called “Digital First.” The Register’s decision to jettison its printing operation is a reflection of that effort, and it could be a sign of better days to come.

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.

For the Herald, a long-term lease and lots of space

We already knew that the Boston Herald, having shut down its printing presses, was getting ready to leave its hulking South End plant. Now the other shoe has dropped, as Herald owner Pat Purcell announced yesterday that the paper will move to the Seaport District in early 2012.

Two pieces of information seem significant. First, the Herald signed a 10-year lease, which, if nothing else, ought to give pause to those who perpetually predict the tabloid’s demise. Second, the paper will commandeer 51,000 square feet of space.

I’m not good at visualizing what that means, but it sounds like a lot for what has become a small operation. Is Purcell planning to expand? Or does he have additional ventures in mind? Don’t forget that he moonlights as head of Rupert Murdoch’s South Coast papers.

Memo to Tom Menino: Boston is not “a two-newspaper town” — it’s a multiple-newspaper town, with excellent papers ranging from neighborhood outlets such as the Dorchester Reporter and the South End News to specialty publications like the Boston Phoenix and Bay Windows.

Boston is a two-daily town, and it looks like Purcell intends to keep it that way for as long as he can.

The Boston Globe covers the Herald’s move as well.

A pioneering community journalist

The Boston Globe today has a wonderful tribute to a pioneering community journalist — Rhoda Shaw Clark, who published the Claremont Daily Eagle in New Hampshire from 1950, when her husband died in a canoe accident, until 1963, when she sold the paper. Mrs. Clark died earlier this month at 99.

I particularly like this anecdote in the obituary, written by Gloria Negri:

As a top editor, she was known to be demanding, Charles Caruso of New York City well remembers. “I had gone there for a job, but before I went for the interview went to a road house where people were dancing. I saw this very pretty woman and asked her for a dance. As we danced, I told her I was nervous about an interview the next day with the publisher of the Daily Eagle. “‘I hear the woman publisher is a harridan, a real curmudgeon,’” he said. His dance partner turned out to be Mrs. Clark. He got the job.

The Eagle Times, as the paper was renamed following a merger, went out of business in 2009, but was revived later that year with the help of a $250,000 loan, 75 percent of which was guaranteed by the state — “an unusual deal because it involves a daily newspaper and the government it covers,” as the Nashua Telegraph put it.

I could not access the paper’s website, and according to this Wikipedia article, it’s been down since 2009. Too bad. I would have liked to see what the Eagle Times had to say about Mrs. Clark.

AOL would be profitable without Patch

Talk about burying the lede. The New York Times today reports on the latest regarding AOL’s long, slow slide into oblivion. Near the end is this:

Other ideas include closing Patch, AOL’s local news initiative that has reporters in 850 towns. Eliminating the money-losing service would free $160 million and lift AOL into profitability.

AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong insists he’s not going to abandon his strategy of transforming the service into a profitable content-provider. But the Huffington Post side of things brings in so many more visitors, with fewer employees, that you really have to wonder how long he and his shareholders can resist the urge to close Patch.

Not to repeat myself (OK, to repeat myself), but I don’t wish Patch ill. Given that it is hiring young and some not-so-young journalists, I’d like to see it find a profitable place in the local-news media ecosystem. But it’s never been clear how Patch can make money. Business Insider has been especially withering, but its negative outlook is hardly unique.